Giving oral evidence in court

Giving oral evidence in court can be a daunting and unpredictable experience. Before going to court it is generally helpful to discuss the case and the psychiatric evidence with experienced colleagues. It is important to be well briefed in advance by the legal representatives who have requested the court attendance, so that the expert witness knows in advance what questions or aspects of their written report are likely to be the focus of questioning, and what kind of cross-examination from the opposing side may be anticipated. In the witness box it should be remembered that answers to questions should be addressed to the Bench, rather than to the examining and cross-examining lawyers. Brodsky(25) provides useful practical advice about giving expert witness testimony in court.

The adversarial process can put pressures on expert witnesses and, particularly when being cross-examined, efforts may be made to discredit or cast doubt on the expert's evidence. Not uncommonly this is done by putting to the expert a series of propositions and questions which commence with statements the expert witness can agree with, but which will lead to conclusions that the cross-examining counsel wishes to demonstrate. It is important not to feel intimidated or that one is in a contest. It should be remembered that the purpose of the adversarial process is to test evidence rigorously, and in giving oral evidence the psychiatric expert should seek always to ensure that answers are clear, and that they accurately and succinctly convey his or her views. If a point is reached at which the expert feels under pressure to agree to a statement that does not accurately reflect his or her opinion, the expert should make clear with courtesy and firmness how his or her view differs.

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