Witness preparation ensures sound foundations for informed judgements

For most people giving evidence in court is not an everyday occurrence; nevertheless, witnesses play a vital role in the legal process. We asked Mark Solon, Chairman of Wilmington’s Legal division, to explain the current trends in witness preparation and to share his experience.

Whether delivered by lay witnesses, giving factual testimony based on their personal experiences; or by expert witnesses, assisting the court on technical issues ranging from property disputes to accidents at work, witness evidence provides the foundations on which judgements are constructed.

It’s a matter of concern, says Mark, that many witnesses are completely unprepared for the courtroom experience, leaving the door open for unfamiliarity or nervousness to undermine their evidence. A failure to address the situation could lead to a witness’s performance influencing the outcome to a greater degree than her testimony. While practising as a solicitor during the 1990s, Mark realised that witnesses needed additional skills to equip them for the courtroom. They need to be ready for cross-examination, to understand the basics of the relevant law and procedure and, if testifying as expert witnesses, to be able to write a court-compliant report. At the time, no one provided this type of training.

Delivering accredited professional training

Bond Solon was established to deliver structured professional training for witnesses, preparing them for the task of giving evidence. Courses included lifelike simulations of court procedures and cross-examination, conducted by practising members of the legal profession; around the UK, lawyers soon recognised Bond Solon training as the preferred program for witnesses seeking to improve their skills and credibility.

In 2001 the company developed a program with the School of Law at Cardiff University, one of the top five law schools in Britain; the University assessed the progress of expert witnesses who had completed Bond Solon courses, validating their qualifications. Today, the Cardiff University Bond Solon (CUBS) expert-witness certificates are highly regarded by the legal profession, and many thousands of experts have received CUBS accreditation.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common to hear about high-profile court cases where celebrity witnesses are front-page news. Mark explained that in 2011, Bond Solon played a significant role in preparing Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea Football Club, for a multibillion-pound trial in London – a case that he eventually won. The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Abramovich, speaking through a translator, “managed an assured performance” thanks to an effective witness-familiarisation program.

International expansion is underway

Different jurisdictions have their own idiosyncrasies; in conjunction with Glasgow University Law School, Bond Solon is ready to launch a qualification for Expert Witnesses designed for use under Scottish Law. The company’s next expansion, says Mark, will be via a licencing arrangement with a leading witness-training company operating in Australasia, with the initial courses being offered in New Zealand during 2016.

In the coming years, Mark expects Bond Solon to move into other territories, largely as a result of the explosion of litigation worldwide. It already handles training requests from Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE, where witnesses are preparing to testify in cases being heard in the English courts. Bond Solon is also meeting litigators in the United States, where witness preparation is handled very differently; inappropriate preparation can create difficulties at trial and American lawyers need to be particularly cautious.

The company works with most of the top 100 law firms in the UK, and Mark is sure it won’t be long before it establishes a similar reputation overseas. It’s a great example of internationalisation from a business with a strong brand that previously dealt almost exclusively in the UK.

Want to know more about Bond Solon? Contact Adam Millward by email at amillward@bondsolon.com or call +44 (0)20 7549 2549

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