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: It can be helpful to dress smartly to show that you take the hearing seriously and intend to be taken seriously back.
Address the court respectfully: Adress 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 for you to expand on your position statement so it’s important to answer all their questions clearly as best you can. Then you will be questioned by the local authority barrister, then the CAFCASS barrister and sometimes the judge. When questioned by them it helps if you try to keep your answers short, even just yes or no. Try not to expand too much 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 trick you into giving different answers which makes you seem confused, contradictory and therefore lying. You can also say, “I have already answered that question”. No matter who is asking the question, look at the judge when you answer as s/he is the person that must decide whether they believe you or not.
Hold on to your own power: It is hard not to get angry when lies are being told about you and/or your children, but having an outburst may be used against you. Winding you up is a tactic often used by lawyers (and by fathers who are litigants in person) to push you into losing control and saying things you don’t mean. They are trying to make you look bad in the eyes of the judge. Remember that women trying to protect our children are often accused of being hysterical, unreasonable and manipulative so we can be dismissed. Keep your cool and stick to the facts.
You cannot speak to anyone about your case while you are giving evidence Giving evidence can last several days and you are not allowed to speak about what is happening in court to friends, family or even your lawyer until your evidence is over. If you do, you could be charged with “Contempt of Court”. Make sure you ask your lawyers any questions before you start giving evidence as you won’t be able to once you started.
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 so you can recover your composure. If the lawyers for the other side 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. It is better to say “I am sorry I don’t know that” or “I don’t remember” than to say something which can be shown to be false or contradictory.