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Help! I’m about to be cross-examined in a Trial! What should I know and what do I do?!

Help! I’m about to be cross-examined in a Trial! What should I know and what do I do?!

Help! I’m about to be cross-examined in a Trial! What should I know and what do I do?!

Being called to give evidence in court is stressful. Here are some tips which we think are important for you to know:

  • Dress appropriately: Don’t wear Louboutin heels or an expensive Brioni suit in an attempt to convey that you’re rich and powerful. Likewise, don’t turn up in unwashed rags in an effort to convey that you’re poor (and so you really need all the money you can get). Neither do you have to dress as though you’re part of the Amish culture if you’re trying to convey that you are conservative and caring. You are not a character, you are you and you are involved in this case. The clothes you wear should not be distracting; they should be comfortable and should simply convey that you consider this an important matter and that you have respect for the court.Men should wear a shirt with a collar and pants. No jeans, t-shirts or sunglasses on the head – this is not casual Friday and you are not at the pub. Women should wear dress shirts and pants or skirts or dresses. When I say dresses, I mean modest dresses. What works for you on a Saturday night out on the town will not work the same way for you in court. Avoid too much make-up and heavy perfume – actually, I think that one is just a general life rule.

  • Courtroom conduct: If you are a party and sitting in the courtroom observing the cross-examination of other witnesses you need to be mindful of how you behave. While we do not expect you to sit like a zombie, you should not make faces, grimace, sigh, snigger, roll your eyes, shake your head or make any other gesture in response to a witness’ testimony which you disagree with. The judge has a bird’s-eye view of the courtroom and will definitely make a mental note of your inappropriate gestures. Take yourself back to the time when you were in primary school and you were sitting in the lounge room of your best friend’s parents house and meeting your best friend’s parents for the first time (remember when your mum reminded you just before you hopped out of the car to politely say “please” and “thank you”?) – act like you did in that lounge room, with respect.
  • Tell the truth: If it’s your turn to be cross-examined, tell the truth not just because you will have sworn an oath to tell the truth but also because you do not want to prejudice your case.The one most completely devastating thing that can happen is for you to lie in relation to some aspect of your case.

Some people think they have to contradict the opposing barrister as much as possible. Others think they should agree with the opposing barrister as much as possible so that they appear unbiased. Don’t try to be either too agreeable or too disagreeable when you are being cross-examined. JUST TELL THE TRUTH.

  • Be brief: Listen to each question carefully, answer it completely and honestly but don’t over-answer it.   In other words, don’t elaborate unless some elaboration is necessary to clarify your answer. Don’t go on to another topic because that will only irritate the court. Honestly, no one cares if you found out that former partner cheated in Monopoly 8 years ago. Firstly, who hasn’t. Secondly, that’s not exactly damning evidence that he or she is a lying toad.
  • Listen to the question and only answer the question: A wise man once gave me this example (thanks, Anish Rebello). If someone holds out a pen and says “Do you know what this is?” all you need to say is “Yes” provided you know that it is a pen. Not “Yes, it’s a pen, DUH!” as then you are offering more information than necessary to answer the question. Don’t try to second guess the barrister who is asking you the questions. Also, don’t worry whether your answer is helping your case. All you have to do is tell the truth.
  • Do not ask the cross-examining barrister a question or be discourteous: Do not argue, get mad, cut the barrister off mid-sentence, use sarcasm or lose your temper. It shows belligerence and it appears as if you are trying to avoid answering the barrister’s question. Your barrister will be there to protect you if you are being mistreated. Did you talk back to your primary school best friend’s parents while you were sitting in that lounge room? No. No, you didn’t. For a good reason.

There is only one exception. You must ask the barrister to repeat or rephrase a question if you do not hear the question or do not understand the question.Don’t answer a question you do not understandbecause you are concerned about not looking stupid – THAT is stupid.

  • It’s OK if you don’t know the answer: It’s OK if you genuinely don’t know the answer to a question or don’t remember something. But don’t use “I don’t remember” as an excuse not to answer. If you know the answer, answer the question.
  • Don’t guess and don’t speak in absolutes: Don’t guess the answer to any question. That’s also unwise. If you don’t know what you’re talking about – leave it. Also, be careful when the question deals with dates, time, speed, or distance. It’s best to provide an estimate such as “approximately…” Similarly, don’t speak in absolutes (which is a common trap when you’re worked up) unless they are actually true, for example, “Seriously, he ALWAYS cheated in Monopoly!” because you’re likely to lose credibility and come undone on those kinds of statements if they are false (and then who looks like the lying toad?)
  • Your barrister can ask you questions after you have been cross-examined: Remember, your barrister will have a chance to ask you questions again after the other party’s barrister cross-examines you. So, if there is anything that you feel has not been adequately explained in cross-examination, your barrister will give you a chance to explain it – just keep it brief, tell the truth and remember to say “please”” and “thank you”.
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Wednesday, 01 April 2020