It is not uncommon for individuals to be asked to attend court to give evidence on a matter which does not concern them directly.
Perhaps you were a witness to key events or have some information which is important to another business to help their case.
Attending court may seem daunting. However, if approached in the correct way, the process should be straightforward and there is no need to feel unduly anxious.
There are a number of key points to be aware of.
It is common practice for the evidence which you can give to be summarised in a document called a witness statement.
Where you are asked to provide a witness statement, for example to confirm how a debt arose or how a contract was negotiated, then this will normally be prepared on your behalf following a face-to-face meeting, a telephone call, or a video conference. It should be written in your own words and confined to dealing only with facts that are within your own knowledge or which are matters of information or personal belief.
You must be satisfied with the accuracy of the information your statement contains, as it will have to be verified by a statement of truth which confirms that you have an honest belief in the correctness of what you have said and that you understand you could be sanctioned by the court if you give a statement that you know to be false.
You may be asked to produce documents material to the dispute
Where you are asked to produce documents in your possession, or which are under your control and considered relevant to the case, then you will normally be asked to do this on a voluntary basis first and then, if you refuse, by compulsion via a court order.
Careful consideration will need to be given as to whether the request made is reasonable and whether it is something that you should agree to.
If you believe that you have a right or legal duty to refuse to comply with a document request, then it is important that you raise this with the party making the request and possibly with the Court. For example, it may be that the request refers to highly sensitive information concerning your business or personal details of individuals. The request may also be too onerous.
If you are asked to go to court in connection with a business matter, then it will be up to the parties and ultimately the judge handling the case to determine the nature of the questions you may be asked.
You will not be expected to recount the details of your witness statement in full, but you may be asked to expand on what you have said or to answer questions about a particular issue where your recollection of events differs from those of another witness or the other party to the proceedings. You may also be asked about any events that have occurred since your statement was made and provided to the other side.
Where you are likely to experience any difficulty in attending court, for example because you are due to be abroad on the relevant date, then it may be possible for you to give evidence via video link instead. This will be entirely in the court’s discretion.
Where a question is put to you that could be incriminating if you were to answer it, or which could expose you to the risk of some other form of penalty, then you may have a right to refuse to comment depending on the circumstances.
If you are happy to provide witness or documentary evidence, but you are being prevented from doing so by contractual or practical restraints, then it may be possible for these to be overcome – either by the issue of a witness summons or some other court order.
For example, if you are happy to attend court but your employer is refusing to give you the day off, then a witness summons compelling your attendance will usually resolve this.
Likewise, if you are subject to statutory or contractual obligations which prohibit confidential documents or information covered by data protection rules from being disclosed without a court order, then it may be possible for such an order to be obtained.
If you incur costs because of having to go to court, then you will be entitled to claim compensation to reflect this. The amount you can claim will depend on the circumstances but will include your travel costs and a reasonable amount to reflect any loss of earnings that you incur as a result of having to take unpaid time off work.
Similarly, if your business incurs expenses dealing with requests for documents, these may be reimbursed.
Given the issues which can arise with a request to assist with a court case it may well be appropriate to take legal advice on your position before committing yourself to provide evidence or indeed documents.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.
Published on 4 July 2022