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Do you have to give evidence in court?


As a Defendant (sorry for using that word) you never have to give evidence in court.

But tactically, there are times when you should e.g. where the police officer has said something that you completely disagree with.

In that situation your lawyer would have to put your denial and version of events to the officer and invite them to respond to that.

Assuming they disagreed with your version, you would likely have to take the witness box and give evidence of your version of events.

According to studies the number one fear of most people is public speaking.
The number two fear is death.
This means that to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

But in most cases, you wouldn’t take the stand.

In most criminal cases the Defendant never takes the stand.

There are two good reasons for this: firstly, the burden of proof rests with the State at all times. They must prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt.

You don’t have to prove anything.

Secondly, a lawyer puts their client into the witness box at their peril.

Naturally unskilled in the laws of evidence, strange things sometimes happen to people when they enter a courtroom.

This is often magnified when they get into a witness box.

The architecture of a courtroom is like none you have ever seen before.

The seats in a courtroom are immediately inside the room as you enter. This seems to offer solace, someplace to sit down quickly.

Ahead of you, stretching deep into the room, are the desks where the lawyers sit. Because the courtroom is designed with a hierarchical structure in mind, your eye naturally wanders upwards to a desk in front of the lawyers.

A person sits here on the middle of a wooden dais.

This person sits about three or four feet above everyone else. This is the Court Clerk and they are the Judge’s right-hand person.

While they wouldn’t admit as much, they practically run the court. They are the ones who call the cases and decide in what order they are called.

To the left and right of the Clerks seats, on the edges of the wooden structure that make up the court dais, are the Witness Boxes.

Behind the Clerk, sitting another two to three feet above them is the Judge.

They sit alone.

If you’ve never sat in a witness box it can be an unnerving experience.

This starts with the approach to the witness box itself.

You have to leave the relative warmth and security of the body of the court and walk towards that lonely box.

Once you’re sworn in by the court clerk you take a seat. You’re asked for your name. All eyes are now on you.

The seating position of the chair means that you’re facing the Judge. I have often seen people try their best to shift the seat so that they could look at anything other than the Judge.

This is difficult when the chair is bolted to the floor, but still some people gamely try.

On one side of you are all the people hanging on your every word.

On the other is the Judge.

According to studies the number one fear of most people is public speaking.

The number two fear is death.

This means, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, that to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

And watching some people give evidence you begin to see why.

Some can’t speak or can barely be heard.

You might laugh at this, but I witnessed a trial being thrown out because no one could hear the injured party when they gave evidence.

Despite repeated complaints by both the Defence and the Jury themselves that they could not hear the witness, and despite repeated warnings by the Judge to “speak up”, the case was ultimately dismissed on direction of the Judge.

So, will you have to give evidence?

It depends on the case. But usually not.


When it comes to drink driving it’s almost always the case that you would not give evidence.

There’s a good reason for this.

The main reason is credibility.

Judges tend to obviously favour evidence given by sober people.

In drink driving prosecutions, alcohol is -obviously- almost always involved.

This makes your credibility harder to sustain.

If you’ve been drinking, you’re up against Gardai who haven’t.

Be truthful: if you were trying to decide between a version of events given by a sober person and a person who had been drinking, who would you choose?

So, from a tactical point of view, you wouldn’t obviously opt to give evidence.

But that doesn’t mean that in drink driving prosecutions Defendants never give evidence.

Just because a person has been arrested for drink driving it doesn’t mean that their version of events is worthless.

There are many cases where the Defendant is only slightly over the limit.

In those cases, the difference between intoxication and relative sobriety is razor thin.

People always say that the thought of giving evidence terrifies them.

At the very least it causes them a lot of stress.

Heart palpitations are quite normal.

I once had to meet a client in a café around the corner from the courthouse because the thought of setting foot inside the place made him nauseous.

This isn’t rational because most people have never been in a courtroom in their life. But yet the fear is palpable.

Courts might be intimidating places in the minds of most people, but this is usually because their expectation of court is not based on reality.

Its based on TV and movies.

Which are not real.

In TV and movies, courtrooms are places where angry lawyers badger witnesses and shout at them or the Judge, or both.

Usually, the Judge shouts back and bangs his gavel a few times for effect.

Often the people in the courtroom start shouting themselves.

Disorder is common.

This is sheer nonsense.

The business of TV is drama, not truth.

Drama is what gets viewers watching.

Truth usually doesn’t, unless it’s a celebrity trial.

If you ever sat in a courtroom, you’d never see table-thumping.

There is no shouting either, except from mentally disturbed people.

However, nerves remain among people who may have to give evidence.

But this is normal. It’s supposed to be this way.

Judges expect people to be somewhat nervous when they get into the witness box.

It’d be strange if you weren’t.

After all you’re in this strange environment for the first time.

If any of us have to do something for the first time we’re not exactly at our most confident.

And Judges understand that.

Judges rarely shout and they don’t have gavels either.

At least not in Ireland or the UK.

And while Judges on occasion raise their voices to lawyers, the reverse never happens.

After all, shouting at someone who can put you in jail is generally regarded as unwise.


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