PROVING THINGS 29: MAKE SURE THE WITNESS EVIDENCE DEALS WITH THE RELEVANT ISSUES
In Re B (a minor) (habitual residence)  EWHC 2174 (Fam) Mr Justice Hayden had some important observations on the preparation of witness evidence. Although made in a family case the comments are of general observation: those who take witness statements must know the relevant law and make sure that the statements deal with evidence on those issues.
The court was considering the “habitual residence” of a young child. Both parties had filed witness evidence. Much of the evidence dealt with the nature of the relationship between mother and father. The judge’s complaint was that very little of the evidence dealt with the key issues that the court had to determine.
“If there is one clear message emerging both from the European case law and from the Supreme Court, it is that the child is at the centre of the exercise when evaluating his or her habitual residence. This will involve a real and detailed consideration of (inter alia): the child’s day to day life and experiences; family environment; interests and hobbies; friends etc. and an appreciation of which adults are most important to the child. The approach must always be child driven. I emphasise this because all too frequently and this case is no exception, the statements filed focus predominantly on the adult parties. It is all too common for the Court to have to drill deep for information about the child’s life and routine. This should have been mined to the surface in the preparation of the case and regarded as the primary objective of the statements. I am bound to say that if the lawyers follow this approach more assiduously, I consider that the very discipline of the preparation is most likely to clarify where the child is habitually resident. I must also say that this exercise, if properly engaged with, should lead to a reduction in these enquiries in the courtroom. Habitual residence is essentially a factual issue, it ought therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases, to be readily capable of identification by the parties.
i) The solicitors charged with preparation of the statements must familiarise themselves with the recent case law which emphasises the scope and ambit of the enquiry when assessing habitual residence, (para 17 above maybe a convenient summary);
ii) If the statements do not address the salient issues, counsel, if instructed, should bring the failure to do so to his instructing solicitors attention;
iii) An application should be made expeditiously to the Court for leave to file an amended statement, even though that will inevitably result in a further statement in response;
iv) Lawyers specialising in these international children cases, where the guiding principle is international comity and where the jurisdiction is therefore summary, have become unfamiliar, in my judgement, with the forensic discipline involved in identifying and evaluating the practical realities of children’s lives. They must relearn these skills if they are going to be in a position to apply the law as it is now clarified.
The simple message must get through to those who prepare the statements that habitual residence of a child is all about his or her life and not about parental dispute. It is a factual exploration.”
THE “PROVING THINGS”: SERIES
- Proving things 1: Civil Evidence Act notices will not cut it
- Proving things 2: evidence to support a claim for damages must be pitch perfect.
- Proving things 3: the complete absence of evidence means the court will not speculate
- Proving things 4: Witnesses who just aren’t there.
- Proving things 5: witness statements and failing on causation.
- Proving things 6: “That’s what I always do” & proving causation.
- Proving things 7: If you don’t prove a loss you don’t get an order.
- Proving things 8: a defendant must prove that a failure to wear a seatbelt made a difference.
- Proving things 9: the role of experts
- Proving things 10: “He said, she said”: the difficulties of recollection.
- Proving things 11: Lies, damn lies and…
- Proving things 12: That oral contract is not worth the paper its written on.
- Proving things 13: Loss, there was no loss.
- Proving things 14: proving mitigation of loss
- Proving things 15: damages and evidence: going back to College
- Proving things 16: if you don’t prove it you don’t get it.
- Proving things 17: Heads of damage that were “entirely bogus”
- Proving things 18: Damages; Car hire; Proof & Summary Judgment
- Proving things 19: prove service or you could be caught out.
- Proving things 20: allegations of improper conduct have to be prove
- Proving things 21: when the whole process of investigation is flawed
- Proving things 22: damages, mitigation part 36 (and bundles).
- Proving things 23: serving important evidence late
- Proving things 24: Damages & the “But for test”: when it gets really complexProving things 24: Damages & the “But for test”: when it gets really complex
- Proving things 25: Attempts to smuggle in witness statements do not help (and carry no weight).
- Proving things 26: distinguishing between what you can remember and what you now think you did.
- Proving things 27: Burdens of proof, hearsay evidence and… attempted murder.
- Proving things 28: make unwarranted personal attacks and use a “mud-slinging” expert: that always ends well.
DRAFTING WITNESS STATEMENTS
- Witness statements cannot replace pleadings and “cut and paste” witness statements are unlikely to impress.
- A basic thing that anyone preparing a witness statement should know: the difference between fact and opinion.
- Witness statements are for facts: knowing the difference between evidence and submissions (and why it matters).