I recently had a client who was willing to settle her case for a sum of money that fell well below the value (in my view) of her case. The reason? She was terrified of going to court. She was convinced that she would make a “mess” of her evidence. She was in dread of being bombarded by the Defendant’s barrister in cross examination. We sought to reassure her. My older (and wiser) colleague, Ernest Cantillon pointed out to her that a client like her who was (understandably) nervous of court was preferable to a cocky client whose overconfidence could well annoy a judge.
It got me thinking. I have litigated hundreds of cases over the past twenty years in the District Court, Circuit Court, and High Court. I have also represented many clients in District Court prosecutions. It may sound obvious but the clients who have fared the best are the ones that the judge hearing the case has liked. I have drawn up some tips that might help you to prepare for your day in court.
1. Arrive on time for your case
Court is not an appointment that can be missed or rescheduled. Indeed, if the case relates to criminal prosecution against you, a warrant may issue for your arrest.
2. Dress Smartly
Wear conservative clothing. Avoid jeans, shorts, t-shirts, plunging necklines and cropped tops. For a man, wear a jacket and tie. For a women, a smart trousers/skirt suit is best.
3. It’s OK to be nervous
There is little doubt that a courthouse can be an intimating environment. For most people, this is their first time in court. However your solicitor will be there with you to guide you and advise you throughout the process. If possible, familiarise yourself with the courtroom in advance of the hearing of your case. Have a look at the box in which you will give evidence. Sit in on a case that is at hearing (but remember to turn off your mobile phone!).
4. Prepare what you want to say
In many personal injury cases* and in particular, in medical negligence cases in which I specialise, your case will have taken many years to get to court. The judge who will decide your case does not know you and will know very little about your case in advance other than what is contained within the pleadings filed in court by your solicitor.
In advance of your giving evidence, your barrister will outline the case to the judge. Then, it is your turn! Take this opportunity to tell the judge your story. Take your time. Your barrister can guide you through your evidence. However, he cannot ask you leading questions and he cannot give the evidence for you. You must tell the judge your story, in your own words, including your account of your injuries, loss and damage. You cannot be caught out if you tell the truth. Do not be tempted to exaggerate. At best, you will lose credibility in the eyes of the judge and at worst, your case could be struck out and the costs of the other side awarded against you.
5. Cross Examination
When you are a Plaintiff in a case, the Defendant’s barrister is entitled to cross examine you on the evidence that you have given. It is his/her job to try and dilute or cast some doubt over that evidence. In a personal injury case for instance, the aim will be to illustrate to the judge that you are not as injured as you say you are. Listen to the questions carefully. If you do not understand a question, say so. Always be polite. Do not get aggressive or smart. Answer the question as best and as concisely as you can. Do not answer a question that you are not asked.
Finally, the client to whom I referred at the start of this blog took our advice and did not accept the Defendant’s offer. The case went to court one week later and just before the client gave her evidence, the Defendant offered an additional €150,000 (on top of the original offer) to settle her case which we, as her solicitors, were happy to recommend she accept, which she did. The client, despite all her nerves, held hers and it was certainly worth her while.
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.