Guidance on Character Witness statements
This is intended to assist those who have never written a character witness statement before. Please don’t feel as though you have to follow this format to a tee, it is important that character statements don’t appear to be exactly the same. The following are some helpful pointers:
- Write your reference as a formal letter. That is:
a. Address the letter to the court: “Dear Sir/Madam” for the Magistrates or “Your Honour” for the Crown Court.
b. Sign off the letter “yours faithfully” and then your full name.
c. Date the letter.
d. Sign the letter.
e. Include your full address.
f. Include your date of birth
- Always state what your relationship is with the person, including details of how well you know the person and for how long.
- If you want, you can state what you do for a living, but please try not to speak too much about yourself.
- State that you are aware of the allegations and what the allegations are.
- If you believe the person to be of good character say so and give specific character traits and examples that you have seen.
- Try to make the letter personal and not bland, for example if you can remember any helpful anecdotes, please include these. However, try not to be over familiar or too informal.
Remember criminal proceedings are to be taken seriously.
- If the person has pleaded guilty or will be pleading guilty:
a. Never suggest a suitable punishment for the offence. This is a matter for the court.
b. If the person’s life has changed for the better (that is they have reformed their ways), please say so.
- If the person has pleaded or will plead not guilty:
a. Don’t suggest that the person is not guilty/would never commit such offences.
b. Don’t say hope that they should be found not guilty/acquitted.
c. Don’t question the character of the complainants/whether their evidence is reliable etc. All of these are matters for the court.
d. If you were shocked to hear of the allegations you can state this.
- Should you be happy to attend court, please state this at the bottom of the letter. Please note that it might be necessary to put your letter into official witness statement format.
Therefore, please type your statement in word format in the first instance so it can be copy and pasted if necessary (and eventually signed in the new format). Should it be necessary to reformat it, this will be done in due course.
If you are called to give evidence – please bear in mind the following: Whilst the experience is a little daunting, it is likely you will only be on the stand (the place where you will give evidence) for about 5 to 10 minutes. However, there may well be a long wait to get to that point, so bring something to read/do. The Magistrates/jury will expect that you will be a little nervous, please don’t worry if you are nervous.
- When you come into the stand, the first thing you will have to do is to take an oath. This will be taken either on the Bible (or another religious book) or you can give a solemn affirmation (non-religious oath to tell the truth).
- The advocate for the defence will ask you questions first. He will not be able to ask you leading questions, that is a question which suggests an answer. Therefore when you give evidence you will have to tell your story, in other words try not to give one-word answers. However, please try not to learn a script! A useful way of thinking about things,
is to think of some headlines for your evidence. Then (a) explain, (b) develop and (c) and give examples of the point you are making.
- When you speak, please remember to do the following:
a. If something is wrong, be emphatic in your denial. Otherwise people are unlikely to believe you.
b. Take your time when you give evidence.
c. Keep your voice up and direct your answers to the jury.
d. Listen to the question and answer the question. If you don’t follow this basic rule – you might say something that you shouldn’t!
e. Remember court is a formal setting but at the same time, you can be personal to a degree.
- Please remember to NOT do the following if you give evidence:
a. Unless you are on trial – don’t say “he’s not guilty of the offence” – this is a matter for the court.
b. Don’t get into an argument with the prosecutor.
c. Don’t make personal remarks about the prosecutor or anyone else.
d. If the prosecutor makes a mistake when asking a question – don’t be arrogant, gently correct if they are in wrong only if necessary.
e. Don’t pontificate – that is, give straight forward answers and don’t give your own theories on general matters that you might be asked questions about. For example, if you are asked about child pornography, rather than speculating as to why certain people might indulge in this, just give a firm short answer with your views.
f. Don’t excessively criticise people that the court might have sympathy with e.g. the family of a deceased person. People should be treated with respect, even if they have been in the wrong.
g. Don’t be drawn into commenting on things you have no knowledge of. Stick to what you know.
h. Don’t mark remarks about people’s appearance/other superficial matters unless it is 100% relevant.
- After the defence advocate has asked you questions, the prosecutor will be allowed to ask you questions. It is unlikely that s/he will ask you that many, and there is even a chance s/he may not ask you any. Again, simply answer the questions and try not to get into an argument with the prosecutor.
- Please dress appropriately; imagine that you are dressing for a funeral. In this way, you will be treating the court with respect.
- You can claim you expenses of getting to court from the court by asking at the office for a form to complete. You may need to submit parking or train tickets.
- Thank you so much for your help. In assisting you are proving the true value of a friend.