top of page

Do I have to give evidence in court?

Updated: Apr 17




It depends.

Sorry about that.


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

But tactically, there may be times when you should.

 

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.

They sometimes say the most unexpected things.

Its often unhelpful.

Sometimes even disastrous.

That's what nerves can do to you.


According to studies the number one fear of most people
is public speaking.
The number two fear is death.
That means that if the average person went to a funeral,
they’d rather be in the coffin than do the eulogy.


STRANGE THINGS SOMETIMES happen to people when they enter a courtroom.

 The architecture of the place is like none you have ever seen.

The seats are immediately inside the room as you enter.

They seem to offer comfort, someplace to sit down quickly.


Ahead of you, stretching deep into the room, are the desks where the lawyers sit.

Your eye naturally wanders upwards to a desk in front of the lawyers.

A person sits here all alone, about three or four feet above everyone else.

They are the court Registrar, the Judge’s right-hand person.

 

They practically run the place. Sometimes judges even jokingly admit it.

Registrars are the ones who call the cases, decide what order they are called, or even if they are called.

Try not to annoy them.

 

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

They too sit alone.

If there’s more than one of them, you’re in Court of Criminal Appeal, where the stakes are higher.


There’s one very big difference these two courts.

When considering jail, a District Court judge thinks in terms of weeks or months.

A Court of Criminal Appeal judge thinks in terms of years.

 

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 security of the body of the court and walk towards that distant wooden box.

The walk can be a lonely one.  





 

Once you’re sworn in by the Registrar you take a seat.

You’re asked for your name.

All eyes are now on you.

You’re finally the centre of attention, just at the time when you least want...

 

The seating position of the chair means that you’re facing the Judge.

People often try their best to shift the seat so that they can look at anything other than the Judge.

From what they’ve seen on TV over the years, judges seem to scare them.

But most judges are understanding: they know how difficult coming to court can be.

One or two even smile.

And they don’t badger witnesses like we see on tv.

That's beneath them.

 

 

ACCORDING TO STUDIES the number one fear of most people is public speaking.

The number two fear is death.

That means, as a comedian once put it, that if the average person went to a funeral, they’d rather be in the coffin than do the eulogy.


While Judges can raise their voices to lawyers,
the reverse never happens.
Lawyers don’t shout at judges.
Unless they fancy some time away
in one-star accommodation.

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

 

So, will you have to give evidence?

It depends on the case. But usually not.

Why?


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, or to be more precise, people who were sober when the events occurred.  

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

 

This makes your credibility harder to sustain.

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

Be honest: 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.

 

 

PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY that the thought of giving evidence terrifies them.

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, shouting “Order! Order!”

Often the people in the courtroom start shouting themselves and pointing angrily.

 

This is sheer nonsense.

The business of TV is drama, not truth.

Drama is what gets viewers watching.

Ratings are key.

Things are less exciting in real life.

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

There is no shouting either, except from mentally disturbed people, some of whom may be lawyers.  

 





BUT NERVES REMAIN among people who may have to give evidence.    

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

Judges expect people to be at least a little nervous when they get into the witness box.

It’d be strange if they 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.

Lawyers don’t shout at judges.

Unless they fancy some time away in one-star accommodation.

 

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

166 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page