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How to... give evidence in court

At some time during your career you will be asked to give evidence in court. When you are asked, there is no choice; failure to appear is an offence.

In the same way that we study the consultation and have tricks of the trade, so lawyers have standard techniques. Understanding the court system and the 'games' played by lawyers will make the experience less daunting.

1) Before being called to court it is likely you will have made a statement (see How to..., 12 April). Keep a copy and read it before your appearance.

2) Courts see doctors as pillars of the community. Play the part by appearing smartly dressed.

3) Speak slowing and clearly. It helps to address your answers to the magistrate or judge rather than the solicitor or barrister. In the crown court one useful trick is to stand with your feet pointing midway between the judge and the jury.

4) You will be a witness for the prosecution or the defence. This does not mean that you are on their side. The side that called you can only ask open questions and will try to guide you through your statement. The other side can ask leading questions.

5) As a doctor you are independent. However strongly you feel, it is not your role to protect people you believe are innocent or ensure the criminal is convicted. Only give answers you can support with evidence.

6) In civil law the case has to be proved on the balance of probabilities and in criminal law it has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This means that in criminal cases it is enough for the defence to introduce an element of doubt. Be prepared for this.

7) You know more medicine that the lawyers. But they will have done their research and can sound confident. If you are within your area of expertise and are confident of your reply, do not be swayed. And always stay within your area of expertise.

8) Ensure you use the correct terminology. A laceration is a full thickness tear of the skin from a blunt injury. A knife causes an incised wound, not a laceration.

9) If pressed to answer yes or no where a fuller answer would be more useful, look at the judge or magistrate and say: 'If I could help the court by clarifying this point'. No advocate can stop you without seeming they are being negative and do not want to help the court.

10) Relax – you are not on trial. And remember, the magistrates' courts deal with minor cases where usually a solicitor acts as advocate. Serious criminal cases are heard in the crown court where there will be a jury and you will face barristers. Civil cases are heard in the magistrates' court or the county court.

Dr Peter Moore is a GP in Torquay

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