10 Keys to Good Evidence

Understand what the Court considers good evidence

Your task, when giving evidence, it to persuade the court.  You do not need to try to persuade the opposition parties, their lawyers or, indeed, your own lawyers.  It is only the court’s opinion that will matter in the end.  So when you want to give good, effective and convincing evidence, you need to understand what the court wants as good evidence.

Here are 10 key points to remember when you have to give evidence.

1.  Good evidence consists of facts

What any court, whether the family court or any other court, is looking for in your evidence is a statement about the facts.  Your written witness statement must be about the facts of what happened and when you give oral evidence, you will be asked to confirm the facts. The court does not want to hear your opinions, because forming an opinion is actually what the court’s job is.  The court will base its opinion and verdict on the facts it is presented with. The key task for you is therefore to present the facts as clearly and as fully as possible so that the court can understand what has happened.  Your opposition will undoubtedly want to describe the facts in a different way so that they can win their case, so you need to give as much relevant detail as possible and support your account with as much corroborating evidence, such as photos, documents etc, as you can.

2.  Your opinions are not good evidence

Many people think their opinion about their experiences is important but it is not.  The court does not want to hear your opinion unless you are giving evidence as an expert witness.  All other witnesses, other than expert witnesses, must give factual evidence. 

Opinions would be comments such as “X is a horrible person”, “X was deliberately trying to hurt me”, “What X did was unkind” etc.  These kinds of comments must not be included in your evidence. The court wants to hear facts, such as something like: “At 4 o’clock, on Wednesday, X failed to pick up my daughter from school, so she was left waiting with the teacher for 2 hours.” 

Don’t include swear words or rude language in your description of an event, unless the swearing is part of a quote of what was said.  If you want to record what someone said, quote as exactly as you can, what actual words were used.  It’s no use saying, “X spoke unkindly to me” or ”X raised his voice at me during the night”.  Whenever possible, quote what was said, such as: “At 3 o’clock in the morning on Thursday, he shouted at me the following: “I’m going to take this child away from you.” “.  A contemporaneous record of what was done and said will be good evidence.

3.  Record who, what, when and where

It is important to include as much detail as possible about the circumstances in which the event happened.  For example, you need to record the time and date, where you were and who else was there.  In a family case it’s particularly important to say whether a child was present at the time something was said or done and what the child’s reaction was.  If there was a witness, such as a friend or a member of the family, they can vouch for the truth of what you write.  If the witness is someone you don’t know, make sure you get their name and address so that the court can hear from them if necessary.  

4.  Contemporaneous records are good evidence

One of the important ways of making sure of gathering good, detailed and convincing evidence is to make contemporaneous notes.  It is absolutely essential, whatever the nature of the proceedings you are involved in, however long they go on for, that you keep clear records of what has happened.  This is particularly relevant to family cases and disputes over child arrangements where often the evidence is simply one person’s word about what happened and what was said against another’s.  Notes made at the time or very soon after the event are much more convincing to the court than notes made some time afterwards.   Notes made even days after the event can be criticised as unreliable because they may not have been remembered accurately. 

But it will be no use keeping notes if they are not timed and dated so it is essential that you always do so.  If not, it could be alleged that they were fabricated after the event or inaccurate because of the time gap between the alleged event and the date they were recorded.  Fabrication of evidence certainly sometimes happens in family proceedings, unfortunately, so make a record as soon as possible, and date and time it, so that you cannot be accused of fabrication.   

5.  Organise your evidence chronologically

Although we believe there is no better way than using ONRECORD, there are of course other ways of keeping a record.  You can keep handwritten notes in a notebook or digital notes on a phone or in a computer.  Make sure they are well organised as well as clearly written so that you can understand them and find the records you want when you look back after what may be a long time.  This will also help others to understand them when you share them with your lawyer or the court.  They need to be chronological (i.e. in date/time order).   Keep them in one place, whether they are handwritten or on a computer/phone.  

6.  Organise your evidence by themes, headings or topics

Organise your evidence into themes if necessary.  For example, if you are describing domestic abuse, it may be helpful to keep your records under separate headings such as; physical aggression/violence, financial abuse, emotional abuse, controlling behaviour etc, depending on your particular experience.  If you are keeping your records in a notebook, you will need indexes and page numbers so that you can find records as and when you need to refer to them.  ONRECORD makes organising your evidence in this way particularly easy.

7.  Record and keep all supporting evidence

Your account of what happened needs to be supported by any other evidence you have that helps to prove what you say is true.  These days we have all sorts of ways of communicating, apart from phone calls and letters, such as email, texts, video and voice messages and these are also important records of what was said and done.  All communications that might be relevant to your case should be saved and stored in your chronology.  Texts can be screenshot and downloaded.  Emails can be downloaded and saved.  Such computerised communications have a particular advantage as they will have a date and time stamp and some will have a location record (but see below the issue of validating those date/time/location records).  Voice messages will also have a date and time stamp which you can screenshot and then download.  The actual content of the voice messages can be recorded and saved as an audio file by playing them into the microphone of a second device.  All of these communications, if they are at all relevant to the dispute, have a value and should be saved and stored chronologically to be part of your evidence.

8.  The benefits and risks of mobile technology for gathering good evidence

Mobile devices have the great advantage in being able to record not only the date and time of photographs and videos but also their location, which can be important confirmation of your evidence.  However, mobile phones make it possible to alter the date/time and the location of photos and videos, which raises possible challenges about fabrication of evidence.  If you use ONRECORD, this weakness can be avoided by taking the photo or video within the ONRECORD app itself, rather than by using the device’s camera and then uploading the photo from the phone’s gallery.  Photos and videos taken within the ONRECORD app cannot have their date/time or location stamp altered and can therefore be relied upon.

Some risks of digital technology

The use of computers or mobile devices as a source of evidence makes it particularly important to make sure you will continue to have access to that device or that account, particularly if a dispute is going on for years, as many do.  For example, you cannot rely on having long term access to work emails because they will belong to your employer who could delete them, or you may lose access to them if, for example, you change jobs.  Also it is a mistake to use a work email account for personal messages because your employer has the right to see them so they will not be confidential.

9.  Don’t stop keeping records

Although it is tiresome and painstaking to do for any length of time, it is essential that you keep going and do it rigorously,  But making the records themselves is the easy part because you also have to keep saving the supporting evidence and linking it to the records you have written.  It is quite a complicated task to link your photos, screenshots, documents or videos to the written records you have made.  Each bit of supporting evidence needs to be clearly linked to the record they support.  This can be very difficult when a dispute goes on for a long time, as many do, and has different strands or issues within it.  Family cases, which can drag on for years, are often complicated by, for example, combining harm to a child with abusive behaviour towards a parent, or by involving others in the family such as parents in law or grandparents.  Keeping your records organised is going to be key to making sure they are useful evidence when it comes to court.

10.  ONRECORD is designed to gather, organise and protect good evidence

ONRECORD which has been specifically designed for gathering and organising good evidence as well as safeguarding it and making it secure and easy to share with key professionals. 

The app applies all the features of mobile technology to helping you.  Being mobile, you can make a record on the spot at any time and in any place, so your records can be contemporaneous.  Your mobile device enables you not only to make a written record but also to take and upload photos, screenshots, videos or copies of documents that support the written record.  It automatically links them to the record so that they are available with the relevant record when needed without any searching around.  

ONRECORD protects your evidence.  Your records are stored securely on fully protected servers so that you can access them by login whenever or wherever you need to.  If your mobile gets damaged or stolen, you can still access your records at any time from a new device. 

We protect the integrity of your evidence by preventing the editing of records once uploaded.  You cannot be accused of altering your evidence after the event, but instead if you need to make corrections or add further information, you can add any number of additional notes or corrections to it. 

As described above, you cannot alter the date/time or location of photos or videos so that record can be validated. 

ONRECORD immediately organises your records into a chronological timeline, as well as showing when and where they were uploaded. 

You can easily organise your evidence into themes and you can even gather evidence on several separate cases at once.

ONRECORD enables you to selectively and securely link your records to key professionals or to other supporters who can then keep track of your progress and can send messages and feedback.

ONRECORD is unique in its design as a tool for gathering, organising, safeguarding and then securely sharing your evidence with your lawyer or other professionals or supporters.

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