A witness statement is a formal document containing your own account of the facts relating to issues arising in a dispute. Comments made in the statement should be limited to fact, and comments based on opinion should be kept to a minimum. A witness statement is a document recording the evidence of a person who you have spoken to, which is signed by that person to confirm that the contents of the statement are true.
In general, the statement should only contain information on what the witness saw, and not what others have said to him / her. However, it is important to record anything that may open up a new line of inquiry or help in corroborating other information.
The purpose of the witness statement is to provide written evidence to support a party’s case that will, if necessary, be used as evidence in court if need be. The statement is a crucial part of the case, designed to show it in its strongest light. It is important, therefore, to ensure that the statement is accurate and comprehensive.
- The statement must be in your own words. It is therefore important that you understand what is included in your statement and that it accurately reflects your account of the facts.
- Depending on the complexity of the dispute, the proofing exercise could be relatively short. In some instances it could be a longer exercise, taking place over several days. You will usually be able to refresh your memory by reference to contemporaneous documents.
- After the statement has been taken, a draft will be produced for you to review and amend where necessary. It is often the case that there will be several drafts of the statement. Once you are satisfied, you will be asked to sign and date it and the statement will become your ‘proof of evidence’. It will normally be edited further for the purposes of producing a witness statement in court proceedings – in this case, you will be asked to sign a ‘statement of truth’ contained in the witness statement.
Witnesses are usually the best source of information for determining the sequence of events that led to the accident. Frequently, a unit administrative investigator or law enforcement officer on the site has taken initial statements prior to the investigation team’s arrival. These should not be relied upon as the sole statements from witnesses.
The mental state of the witnesses should be taken into account. They could be experiencing stress or may be traumatized by the accident. They may be on medication and require the approval of a physician before making statements or being interviewed. On the other hand, witnesses frequently are anxious to talk about the accident to anyone who will listen. Providing them with an opportunity to talk may help them.
If the accident causes a psychological burden on a witness, critical-incident stress management services may be needed. Encourage the unit to contact the local Company Service Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coordinator to arrange for the appropriate counseling services. If at all possible, a witness should not attend a group critical-incident stress debriefing before being interviewed. If the unit manager determines there is some critical need to provide an employee counseling before the team arrives, ask the unit manager to have the witness write a statement before the debriefing/counseling session.
There is no standard form for a witness statement, but it should:
- be on one side of regular or lined paper and be typed or neatly handwritten
- start with the full name, address and occupation of the person making the statement.
Only include what you know
The statement should only include things that the person making the statement saw or heard or did. Don’t include rumours or gossip.
You will need to prepare a witness statement for yourself and get one from each of your other witnesses.
To ensure candor, witnesses should be isolated from each other while making individual statements.
Investigators/Supervisor should inform witnesses that the primary purpose for taking their statements is for accident prevention purposes. Let the witnesses know that you cannot assure the confidentiality of their statements. Include the name of the witness, work address, phone number, date, and signature in the statement.
The Supervisor or Site INVESTIGATOR should prepare the questions for witness interviews. Other investigation team members may conduct interviews at the direction of the chief investigator. Interviews need to be taken in a quiet, private, comfortable location that is free from disruption. Provide frequent breaks. Depending on the amount of information needed, several sessions may be needed to conduct an interview.
All interviews should be recorded. An recorder can be used for this purpose. For complex investigations, it is best to have a court recorder who is a notary public or a videotape record of the interview. Always obtain the individual’s consent before recording an interview.
After the interview is documented, the interviewer needs to review it and both the interviewer and witness need to sign that it is correct as stated. If telephone and transcribed statements cannot be signed because of the condition of a witness, timing, or availability, include a statement by the interviewer attesting to the time and date of the interview, followed by the interviewer’s signature.
Considerations that should be taken into account during the interview are:
- Avoid collective interviews (interviewing more than one witness at a time).
- Whenever possible, limit team members participating in the interview to two members.
- Do not prejudge a witness. Keep an open mind so you can be receptive to all information, regardless of its nature. Be serious. Maintain control of the interview. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Avoid contemptuous attitudes. Avoid controversial matters. Respect the emotional state of the witness.
- Place the witness at ease. Explain that the interview is for accident prevention and that you are only seeking the facts related to the accident.
- Inform the witness that you can’t promise confidentiality.
- Read the witness’ written statement (if available) before the interview.
- Allow witnesses to tell the story in their own words (do not interrupt).
- Be a good listener. Be unobtrusive when taking notes. Maintain your self-control during interviews. Don’t become emotionally involved in the investigation.
- Investigation team members should coordinate their questions at the direction of the site supervisor and or investigator.
- The interviewer should ask followup questions. Do not assist the witness in answering questions. Diagrams, maps, photos, models, and other items used to clarify information should be introduced at the end of the interview.
- Avoid revealing items discovered during the investigation to the witness.
Types of Questions
- General Questions. General questions are open-ended questions that can help get the witness talking. For example:
- What did you see?
- What can you recall?
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Directed Questions. Directed questions get the witness to focus on a specific subject, without biasing the answer. For example: Did you notice any lights on the vehicle?
- Specific Questions. Specific questions are needed for specific information (such as information about a particular light). For example: Did you notice any lights on the vehicle? What color was the light?
- Summary Questions. Summary questions help witnesses organize their thoughts and draw attention to possible additional information. Restate what you think the witness told you in your own words and ask if that’s correct. Frequently, the witness will add more information.
- Leading Questions. Avoid leading questions. A leading question contains or implies the desired answer. Once you ask a leading question, you have suggested what the witness is supposed to have seen. For example: Was a red light flashing?
- Techniques That Do Not Require Questions. Some interview techniques do not require questions. A nod of your head or an expectant pause may encourage the witness to talk. To keep a witness talking, say something like “uh-huh,” “really,” or “continue.” Another technique is to mirror or echo the witness’ comments. Repeat what the witness said without agreeing or disagreeing. For example: You say you saw smoke coming from the vehicle?
- What is your name, work address, and phone number?
- What is your duty station and position?
- What is your technical background or set of skills?
- How are you connected with others involved in the accident?
- When did you see the accident happen?
- What attracted your attention to the accident?
- When you first saw the accident, where was the vehicle or equipment? Where was the individual involved in the accident?
- What was the direction of travel of the vehicle or equipment involved in the accident? Where was the final resting place of the vehicle or equipment? (Have the witness draw a diagram, if appropriate.)
- Were any other witnesses around? Do you know the names of other witnesses?
- Do you wear glasses or other corrective lenses? Do you wear a hearing aid? What type? Were you wearing your glasses or hearing aid?
- Would you like to provide any additional information?
Include the important information about your employment in your witness statement
In your statement, include all the important information about your employment like:
- when you signed your employment contract
- when you started work and the position you started in
- what award or enterprise agreement you were employed under (if any)
- the date of any promotion and the name of your new position
- details of any change of duties
- details of any performance meetings or meetings about complaints
- when you were told you were dismissed, and what you were told about why you were being dismissed
- the date of your last day of work.
If you want to refer to a date but you are not sure when something happened, you can give a date range or say “on or about” a date.
If any witnesses are reluctant to speak to you, assure them that your investigation is not attempting to apportion blame or liability. • If possible, speak to witnesses at the scene. Research shows that a person’s recall diminishes as time goes on. • Speak to people separately. Make sure, where possible, that witnesses can discuss the incident with you in relative privacy. Allow support persons to be present, but remember that a support person should not be a witness or directly linked to the incident and should not participate in the discussion about what occurred. • Always use simple language and avoid acronyms. After speaking to a person, repeat what they said to ensure you have correctly recorded their version of events. • Most importantly, close each interview on a positive note. In your interviews, you want to obtain all the facts – who, what, where, when, why and how. Don’t assume anything – get clear and concise answers. To do this, you will need to ask open questions to get initial information and then use closed questions to clarify ambiguity. Avoid asking leading and multiple questions.
Open questions Use open questions to encourage the person to say what’s on their mind. This will help you to obtain their personal opinion of what happened, without any unintended influence from the question.
Asking open questions means that you will only receive information about what the respondent actually saw or knew – other types of question can put ideas into people’s minds. Open questions generally start with who, what, when where why and how. For example: • What did you see? • Who else was there? • When did it happen?
Write down what people said
If you want to write down what someone said to you or things you said to someone else, you should put what was said in quotation marks.
He said words to the effect: “That doesn’t sound right. You should get extra for working Saturdays. Let me check it out and get back to you”.
When you talk about a document in a witness statement you should attach a copy of that document to the end of the statement.
These documents are then called ‘attachments’. You should label the top of the first page of each attachment with a letter. The first page of the first attachment would be labelled “A”. The first page of the second attachment would be labelled “B”.