Tips For Giving Court Presentations
by the Professional Development Centre System
In summary, be normal, be truthful, be courteous, be compassionate.
- Listen to each and every question fully. Do not attempt to answer
the question before it has been asked. Do not answer questions that
have not been asked. Volunteer nothing but answer everything.
- Think for a few seconds about the question and your reply before
answering. Do not rush into an answer. Be sure you understand the
question. If the correct answer to the question is "I don't know,"
then that is the answer you must give.
- Answer all questions you are asked and answer only the questions
you are asked. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification or restatement
of a question if it is not fully understood.
- Whenever you hear the word "object", stop and wait for the instructions
from the judge about whether to answer the question or not. Do not
continue to answer a question once an objection has been made.
- You do not have the right to object or refuse to answer a question.
Your Child Welfare Legal Services (CWLS) attorney's role is to make
objections and argue the points to the court.
- Tell the truth whether it seems beneficial or not. In preparing
you to testify, we are not trying to tell you what to say or to change
your understanding of the facts. For example, you should not deny
that a preliminary conference with your CWLS attorney took place.
- Do not be browbeaten into making statements that are not in accordance
with your knowledge or recollection.
- Tell the truth as you know it and maintain your position, whether
it pleases opposing counsel or not.
- "I don't remember" is a perfectly adequate answer if that is the
case. If you are confronted with a question for which you do not know
the answer, the only truthful response is, "I don't know." Never try
to guess the answer to a question.
- You duty is solely to answer the questions asked by the attorneys
and not to volunteer information. Opposing counsel may try to elicit
information from you. Avoid unsolicited explanations, background,
suggestions and illustrative anecdotes.
- Try to answer all questioning by reference to your own sensations
or actions, e.g. "I saw...", "I heard...." or "I did....". Avoid expressions
such as "I assume....", "I guess....", or "I suppose....".
- You may refresh your memory by referring to your notes, however,
there are special procedures for doing so. You must ask for permission
from the court. Once permitted to look at your notes, read them to
yourself briefly, then close your notes and answer the question from
personal knowledge. Do not fail to refer to your notes when necessary
because you fear that opposing counsel will ask to look at your notes.
If you cannot remember events after reading your notes, let your CWLS
attorney know immediately.
- Facial expressions, sarcasm and laughter will not appear on the
transcript. Avoid humor in the courtroom. Do not try to be "cute."
- If you are in discomfort while on the witness stand, you may ask
for relief, e.g. a glass of water or opportunity to go to the rest
- Control your temper - no matter what the provocation. It is a common
technique to excite witnesses in order to handicap their reasoning
powers. An angry witness is usually not an effective witness. By the
same token, do not be co-opted. An attorney with a friendly demeanor
is to be treated exactly the same as an impersonal or even unfriendly
- In a firm and decisive voice, answer each question completely but
- Do not engage in off-the-record conversation with an opposing attorney
or the judge. All contacts with the court and opposing attorneys should
be in the presence of your attorney during a trial or evidentiary
- If the cross-examiner asks a question with an implied or explicit
factual basis that is incorrect, you may correct the facts basis before
you answer, ask for clarification or restatement, or simply say no.
Do that which is most likely to be helpful in making the truth known
to the court.