Does the prospect of giving evidence at tribunal make you shudder? Are you scared you’ll say the wrong thing, or that you’ll cave in when cross-examined? If so, then congratulations, you’re a human being! Being a witness is an unenviable task, but it can be made easier by observing the following steps.
Keep cool: Giving evidence is usually a nerve-racking experience and most people dread being cross-examined, but if you can keep a lid on your nerves then you’re half way there. You can take heart from the fact that employment tribunals are supposed to be less formal than courts. You’re not giving evidence to a jury, but to a panel that favours confident witnesses who provide clear answers to questions asked. Your representatives (preferably one of our own) will brief you on the areas you’re likely to be questioned on and guide you on how best to deal with such questioning. They will also advise you of any questions they are likely to ask you so you’re not taken by surprise and will ensure you are not asked inappropriate questions by the other side.
Consult the bundle: Whilst giving evidence, you’ll be referred to the bundle by both representatives. Familiarise yourself with the content in advance of the hearing so that documents do not take you by surprise and knock you off your stride.
Take responsibility: Where you have direct knowledge of an issue or were actually involved in it, try not to use the word “we” as the panel is only interested in your evidence. If you were the Appeal Officer, it should have been you who decided whether or not to reject the appeal, not you and a number of others. Using “we” in such circumstances suggests that others had a hand in a decision and could undermine its perceived fairness.
Slow down: Nothing tries a panel’s patience more than having to repeatedly ask a witness to slow down whilst giving evidence. Watch panel members when you have answered a question and if there is smoke coming off their pencils, take your foot off the pedal. It is crucial that they get an accurate note of your evidence.
Think before you speak: Listen carefully to questions that are put to you and pause to think before you answer. The panel is more likely to be swayed by a coherent and considered answer than a rushed one that bears little or no relevance to the question asked. If you do not understand the question, ask the representative to repeat it. In fact, you should do this even if you do understand the question but just want more time to think.
Keep it brief: Don’t waffle. The more you say, the more chance there is of you losing the thread and contradicting yourself. Don’t surrender to the temptation to fill silences that often follow the end of answers. These occur because representatives and the panel are busily taking notes of what you’ve just said.
Lend a hand: Try not to be difficult, uncooperative, or to come across as guarded. The more you can show the tribunal that you’re answering questions the best you can, the more persuasive your evidence is likely to be. By all means, deny anything put to you during cross-examination that is untrue, but avoid being aggressive with it.
Answer to the panel: It may feel unnatural, but direct answers to all questions to the panel, even when they are asked by a representative. The panel will be sitting a different angle to you and need to hear what you’ve got to say.
Watch out: A key objective of the other side’s representative is to make you contradict yourself. Don’t be fooled by the Mr Nice Guy act. Their job is to catch you out, so be prepared.
No surprises: Make sure you don’t hold anything back from your representative. If you’ve done something you feel may affect the case negatively, own up at the earliest opportunities. Months of preparation can go to waste if you reveal for the first time on the stand something that could undermine your case.
Employee Management Ltd has defended employers in over 3,000 employment tribunals, but advocacy is only one element of our comprehensive range of employment law services. For a confidential, no-obligation discussion about a pending case, or any other employment law issue, please contact one of our HR consultants without delay.