Guide on going to court
THE PERSONAL INJURIES TRIAL
It is important for clients to be aware of what a Personal Injuries Trial will look like as soon as they decide to seek compensation following an accident.
If a client remains focused on the impeccable presentation of their case at Trial, then it increases the likelihood of an acceptable settlement being reached before Trial.
Conversely, a client who is not focused on the ultimate presentation of their case at Trial can let their guard down, and make quite a few blunders. This can give a Defendant and their insurers confidence to fight a case fully to Trial.
We are Trial focused from the outset, and whilst the vast majority of our cases settle prior to Trial, if your case needs to be presented at Trial, we will be focused on that event from the moment we are instructed.
If your case can not be settled, it will proceed to a Court Trial.
A Trial is a presentation which takes place in front of a Judge, who ultimately decides on whether the Defendant is responsible for causing your injuries, and if so, the Judge will decide on how much compensation should be paid to you by the Defendant for your suffering and financial losses.
As a Plaintiff, you will need to give evidence as a witness on behalf of yourself, this is unavoidable.
WHAT DOES 'GIVING EVIDENCE' MEAN?
You will come to Court. You will be asked to hold a Holy Bible if Christian (or other Holy Scripture, where applicable) and make an Oath promising to tell the truth.
You will be asked to describe the circumstances of your accident. It is of vital importance that you are able to communicate properly and explain as fully as possible all of the circumstances surrounding your accident and injuries.
ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS ACCURATELY
“I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” should only be used where you actually don’t know or can not remember a certain fact. If you are claiming that you don’t know or can’t remember the basic facts relating to your case, you could be seen as an unreliable witness with poor knowledge of your own case, or even worse, you could be seen as being evasive, and unwilling to engage with the Trial process.
DON'T CONTRADICT YOURSELF
Obviously, it is very damaging if you contradict yourself whilst giving evidence.
The Defendant’s barrister will be allowed to ask you questions, and their job is to convince the Judge that you should not be believed. To this extent, the Defendants may have hired private investigators to monitor you after the accident, they may have checked your Facebook, or other social media. It is wise to assume that they will be aware of anything which could be used as “ammunition” to make you seem less believable. The Defendant will also have communications from your solicitor sent on your behalf describing how the accident took place and giving reasons as to why we think the Defendant is responsible for the accident. You are likely to be asked by all medical personnel to give a description of your accident. You will need to repeat the description of your accident many times to different personnel from the moment of your accident up to the opening of your Trial, and again during the course of your Trial which can often be two, three or four years after the accident. The Defendant will very likely have access to your medical records, and medical reports where your prior descriptions of the circumstances of your accident are recorded.
For example, you may have given a description of your accident to the Emergency Department personnel, then repeated the description of the accident to your General Practitioner. When your solicitors seek a medical report, you may be asked again by the reporting doctors to describe how the accident happened. The Defendants will also seek medical reports from their own expert doctors, and you will almost certainly be asked to describe how the accident happened on multiple occasions. If your case is Assessed by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB), you will be asked to describe the accident on the application form, and again by the doctors who are asked to prepare reports for PIAB. An accident description will need to be given in papers filed in Court and served on the Defendant. If you had your accident at work, your description of the accident may be recorded on accident report forms or elsewhere.
Any inconsistency in relation to your description of the accident on each occasion when you repeat the description can be used against you in Court to make you seem like a person who should not be believed.
In order that the Defendant has as little ammunition as possible for use during the Trial, you should be extremely cautious when using Facebook or other Social Medial platforms.
It is vital that when you are asked about your accident by medical personnel after the accident, and during medico-legal consultations, you give an accurate account of how the accident took place, and furthermore, you must do all you can to ensure that your accurate account of events is properly and faithfully recorded by professionals that you interact with after your accident.
If a doctor has recorded your description of the accident incorrectly, you must be in a position to say in your evidence that the doctor must have made a mistake (if this is actually the case). Otherwise, the contradiction will damage your case.
DRESS TO IMPRESS
Obviously, going to Court is not a fashion event. It is safe to assume that the Court will not appreciate or be aware of the latest fashion trends. A Court may perceive it to be disrespectful to attend in sporting wear or casually dressed or with revealing clothing.
We think it is a good idea to remove any unconventional piercings (nose, tongue, lips, eye brows, multiple piercings in one or both ears etc.) and conceal any tattoos.
Hair die is to be avoided, but especially non natural colours such as red, pink, purple, blue or green hair.
We think that dark sombre coloured clothing would work best, and this is so much the case, that a good preparation guide is to dress as if you were attending a funeral or a job interview in an accountancy firm (i.e. formal suit / non colourful tie / black shoes, etc. – be boring!)
BEHAVIOUR WHILST GIVING EVIDENCE
Obviously, ensure that you are 100% sober, being intoxicated or having a hangover would make a terribly bad impression.
Your mobile telephone should be switched completely off when you are in the Court room, before and after you give evidence.
Giving evidence can be a little disorientating for a lay person. Whilst sitting in the witness box, you will be asked questions by a barrister from one direction. However, when answering, you are to address your answers to the Judge, who is sitting opposite the barrister who asked the question. It is appropriate to make eye contact with the Judge when giving your answers.
Please be polite to the Judge and to the barrister who is asking you questions. Do not engage in argument with the barrister or the Judge who is asking you the questions. If you are treated in an aggressive or abrasive fashion by a barrister, then this would more likely harm the Defendant who is trying to provoke a reaction from a witness who remains calm, composed and polite.
You should do everything in your power to avoid any display of anger or aggression which could be very damaging for your case.
However, you should otherwise be yourself. If you feel upset or emotional, it is entirely appropriate for you be yourself.
It is perfectly acceptable for you to be nervous, and the Judge hearing your case will be aware that you are a lay person visiting Court in this capacity perhaps for the first time.
When you finish giving your evidence, you should sit silently in the Court behind your barrister.
Just do your best and co-operate as much as possible!
The Courts are open to the public, and most hearings are held in public. You are entitled to attend civil trials (non family law) taking place at the Four Courts, Dublin 7 in order to see how the civil Trial process works, and to ensure that you are not taken by surprise on the morning of your hearing.
We encourage our clients to visit the Four Courts and sit in on a civil trial so that the experience of going to Court for their own Trial is not a new and shocking event.