2. What is an exchange of witness statements?
Normally, to prove one's case, apart from documentary evidence, one may also need to rely on oral evidence of certain persons who have witnessed certain facts relevant to any issues to be decided at the trial. If such oral evidence is relied upon by parties to a civil action, then before the commencement of the trial, the court normally directs that each party has to serve on (deliver to) the other party written statements of such oral evidence, within a specified period of time. These statements are called witness statements.
Witness statements are not made on oath and are different from affidavits or affirmations. Witness statements will only be accepted as evidence by the court when the witnesses (who are the authors of these statements) confirm the contents to be true on oath in court at the trial.
Witness statements should be prepared with proper care and attention. This is because the court usually orders that a witness statement stands as the witness's evidence-in-chief (or "examination-in-chief") at the trial. A good witness statement should be concise in style but comprehensive in contents, covering all the facts relevant to the case. Further explanatory notes for preparing a witness statement and a sample witness statement can be obtained from the Resource Centre for Unrepresented Litigants . Some important points to note are as follows:
- If the plaintiff and the defendant intend to give their own oral evidence in court, they should prepare their own witness statements as well. However, it is important to note that the plaintiff and the defendant can elect not to give evidence during the trial but only call their witnesses to give evidence.
- A witness statement should commence with the full name, address, occupation and the position held by the witness. It should then follow the chronological sequence of the relevant events (in separate numbered paragraphs), and be expressed in the witness's own language.
- The witness statement must only contain such facts as the witness can prove of his own knowledge (e.g. what he actually saw or heard). If what has been mentioned in the statement is not within the witness's personal knowledge, the court may refuse to admit it as evidence or give little or no weight to it.
- The witness should sign his name at the end of his statement.
- The parties must exchange their witness statements and file them with the court in accordance with any specific directions given by the court for those statements. A party who fails to comply with the court's directions may be prevented from giving any evidence affected by such directions.