The way the courts are set up is daunting for anyone – proceedings can be hard to follow and even to hear.
Here are some tips that might help you:
Look the part, play their game: It can be helpful to dress smartly.
Know how to address the court: Always address the Judge as either your honour – in lower courts – or His Lordship in Higher Courts.
Prepare yourself for questioning: First your own barrister will ask you questions as a way of you expanding on your position statement so it’s important to answer all their questions as best you can. Then you will be questioned by the LA barrister, then the CAFCASS barrister and sometimes the Judge. When you’re being questioned by them it helps if you can try to keep your answers short, even just yes or no. Try not to expand too much on your answer or go off the topic as this gives barristers a way to open up further questions. If a barrister asks you the same question over and over again just repeat the same answer. This is a tactic lawyers use to try to get you to give different answers to make you seem confused and therefore lying. You may also say, I have answered that question. No matter who is asking the question, look at the Judge when you answer as s/he is the person that you are trying to convince.
Hold on to your own power: It is hard not to get angry when lies are being told about you/your children but having an outburst may be used against you. Winding you up is a tactic often used by lawyers (or a father who is a litigant in person) to try to push you into having an outburst or saying things you don’t mean. They are trying to get you to look bad in the eyes of the Judge.
Be clear about your own needs: If you are feeling scared, it is important to say so. You are entitled to ask the judge for a break at any point, but keep in mind that once you have started giving evidence, you are not allowed to talk to your legal teams or anyone else in the case until your evidence is finished. Your evidence could go over a few days – you will not be allowed to talk to your lawyers during this time so make sure you ask them any questions before you start giving evidence. If the opposing teams question you on a detail contained in one of the documents, you can ask the judge to see a copy of this in the court bundle and refer to it as you speak. They might be talking about a document that has nothing to do with you and if that is the case make sure that you say this document is not yours.
Be completely honest: If you do not know the answer to a question say so. Never try to make an answer up because you think the court needs an answer. You can always say “I am sorry I don’t know that” or “I don’t remember”.
Understand the law: If you are giving evidence over several days, you are not allowed to speak to friends, family or even your lawyer during this time about what is happening. If you do, you could be charged with “Contempt of Court”.