If I was to tell you I’ve been in court over 100 times you may think I’m some kind of master criminal. The truth is that I have and I’m not. I’ve just spent a lot of time in the security industry and have spent the last few years working as a security consultant. If I was to add it up I’ve probably spent a few full 24 hour days sitting in witness boxes giving evidence. One thing I can assure you of is that it doesn’t get any less pleasant. Courts are imposing places and even for seasoned security professionals they can make you nervous. I can still remember the nerves from my first time in a court room as a witness. I was 18 years old and had grown up with a knowledge of the court system based on Matlock, the OJ Simpson trial and Judge Judy. Prepared I was not. Since then I’ve learned a few things though. These things I would like to share with you. What has prompted me to write this article is an online course I helped to design for ICSE last year. I spent a few days having a part in writing the programme and another few days filming my starring role in the online programme as the witness. Recently I revisited some the notes from that programme and it got me thinking about that first time in a court witness box. My goal with this site is to help new people in the industry to not go through what I had to pick up this knowledge and that is what this article is about.
There are a number of different courts you may end up in. If you work in retail security you will at some stage end up in the District Court. The District court in your local area deals with minor crime in that area. Of all the time to end up in witness box this is perhaps the easiest of them . There is no jury in the District Court. Usually it will just be judge asking you questions (although this can be nerve wracking as well). The defendant is normally represented by a solicitor who may wish to ask you some questions as well but it isn’t anything that the average security professional cant manage.
When you get to the Circuit Court it gets more serious. If it is a criminal case there will probably be a jury present which adds some extra pressure because they are watching your every move to decide if your evidence is credible. There is also the added pressure of barristers to question you. You can expect to be grilled by barristers in both the Circuit and the High Court. I wont go into too much more detail here on the different courts and their jurisdiction but there are differences in procedure involved.
Preparing for Court
Attending court wont be a shock to you. Usually you will have received a summons or have been notified by the Gardai or solicitor long in advance of the date. Use this time to your advantage. Get your report or your statement and read it over and over again until you are sure of it. Bear in mind that it will likely have been months or even years since you wrote the original report so you will need to go over some of the finer details before taking the stand.
Some simple tips:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before. You many have some nerves but just sitting around waiting in court all day can be exhausting and the last thing you need is to yawn when you are on the way to the stand or fall asleep in the public area waiting to be called.
- Eat a good breakfast. The court will break for lunch but if you are called just before that and you haven’t eaten then your stomach rumbling on the stand wont help matters. Also I’ve always found my appetite not to great when I have to take the stand after lunch.
- Wear a suit. Your appearance should reflect two things. Your respect for the court and your professionalism. Build your credibility right from the start.
- Arrive early and familiarize yourself with the court building. Urban courthouse often have multiple courtrooms so you need to make sure you know where you are going. There will be a court list on display in the public area to help you with this.
- Find your point of contact whether its a solicitor or a Garda and let them know you have arrived.
- Bring a bottle of water and a book. It could be a long day. Don’t bring these into the stand with you.
- Turn off your phone completely. Not silent, not vibrate. Completely off. Judges don’t like phones in courtrooms much at all. It can kill your professional image to be seen on Facebook at the back of the room before taking the stand or snapping a selfie for the group chat.
- Sit in the public area but try not to sit close to the other party.
- When you are called to the stand you walk up and remain standing. The registrar will ask to swear on the bible or an affirmation (your choice). Once this is done you can sit down.
- There is usually a bottle of water and a glass in the witness box. I always find it helpful to pour a glass as soon as I sit down in case I need it. Some judges don’t like to see you drinking from the bottle on the stand.
- Judges in Ireland are referred to simply as ‘Judge’. You don’t need to say your honour or m’lud or any of that stuff from TV.
- Its important to note that you are there as an independent witness to assist the court in its decision, you aren’t supposed to show bias to either side.
- The barrister who called you as a witness will question you first. They are usually the friendly side and ask you questions about the events you were witness to. They cant lead you in your answers while on the stand or the judge will intervene. If they don’t the opposition barrister certainly will.
- Regardless of who asks you a question you should address all of your answers towards the judge. Its a difficult habit to master. Looking towards the barrister for the questions and turning to the judge with your answer doesn’t feel natural at first but you will get there.
- If you need to refer to your notes or report during the questioning you can ask the judge for permission. They will probably ask to see the notes first. The barrister may also seek to inspect the notes from the judge. If you are not 100% clear on your report it is a good idea to ask to refer to your notes.
- Next comes the hard part. The opposition barrister gets to ask you questions in what is known as cross examination. This next point is critical. ITS NEVER PERSONAL. This persons job is to do their very best for their client. They are highly paid, highly skilled and they do this for a living. Their job is to make your evidence look as poorly as possible to the court. They can do this in two ways. They can attack the credibility of the story or they can attack your credibility as a witness. The gloves are off here and they will pressurise you. They can lead all they want with questions.
- When you are being cross examined make sure you take your time, think about your answer and give it. The barrister will try to rush you but don’t rise to it. If they continue it you can ask the judge to request that they slow down (as I do in my starring performance).
- Your account must be factual. If you didn’t see something then that is what you say. If you don’t remember something then that is what you say. Don’t make things up or say things to make your story sound better.
- The judge may also want to ask you some questions throughout and can do so at any time. Once the opposition barrister is finished their questioning the other side may have a follow up question. If not then the judge will tell you that you can return to your seat. Always thank the judge before leaving the stand.
- Once you are finished on the stand you may leave or you may return to the public area and resume your seat.
Getting paid for Court
If your employer requires you to attend court on their behalf in a civil case then they should pay you as it is work time. However if you are required to attend court in a criminal case by the Gardai then your employer doesn’t have to pay. you. Even if it is in relation to your work there is no legal obligation to pay you as it the state who is making you attend. Many employers’ will pay however. If you are not being paid then you will probably be entitled to witness expenses from the state for lost earnings. Ask the Garda who called you about this on the day. Unfortunately these can take a number of months to be processed.
The online course
I had a real ball making this online course. It isn’t like just a load of PowerPoints thrown together. Its animations and video that take you through the whole legal process. We had professional film makers, actors, a barrister and two professional security consultants involved to make it as realistic as possible. This article is an overview to give you some tips but I really recommend the online course. I’m not trying to flog it to you (I’ve already been paid for it) but courtroom skills are something every security operative should know. In today’s society court is going to become a much more familiar place for the security industry.
If you want to take the course you can do it here:
It €40 and ICSE will give you a CPD cert at the end of it once completed.
If you do take the course please let me know what you think. I’m always happy to hear feedback (on the course not my oscar winning acting skills)