Giving Testimony in Supreme Court

(Transcript of video)

In most family law trials, each party gives their own testimony in court. If you're going to trial for a family law issue, your testimony (what you say in the witness box) will be crucial to your case. This is true even if you have other witnesses who give evidence for you. Testifying at trial is the chance to tell your side of the story.

Note that when you represent yourself, you also prepare and give opening and closing statements, but this isn't the same as giving testimony.

This video covers how to prepare your testimony and present it at trial.

Prepare your testimony

You may find the idea of speaking in a courtroom intimidating. The best thing you can do is prepare, and prepare, and prepare.

To prepare your testimony, start by looking at your Trial Preparation Worksheet. If you haven't prepared one yet, see our fact sheet Present your evidence in Supreme Court. Think about the facts you need to prove and which ones you can prove through your own testimony. Also think about which documents you can introduce yourself.

The rules about what type of evidence a court will accept say you can only bring forward what you personally saw, heard, or did. This means you can't usually testify about what someone else said or wrote outside of court. That's called "hearsay".

There are some exceptions to this rule at family trials. You can repeat something the other party said to you outside of court if it's a statement you're offering against them. For example, if the other party said they had assets but now deny they have them. You can also sometimes describe something a child said, but you need the court's permission to do this. This is sometimes allowed to protect children from having to testify in court.

Remember, your testimony must be legally relevant, meaning it must be related) to what you're trying to prove. It's relevant only if it can help you prove an important fact in your case or disprove an important fact of the other party's case. The judge has the final say about what's relevant.

Write out ahead of time what you intend to say at trial, or at least prepare a detailed list. This'll help you organize your thoughts and make sure you cover all the relevant facts. If the judge gives permission, you may be able to look at your point-form notes in the witness box. Keep in mind that both the judge and the other party have the right to look at anything you plan to refer to while testifying.

At trial

When it's your turn to present evidence at trial, you usually testify first, even if you have other witnesses. You go into the witness box and swear or affirm that your testimony will be — as you've probably heard in many movies — "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Your first point will be a short statement of why you're in court. For example, you may say, "I'm asking for orders for child support, spousal support, division of property, and divorce." Then go on to talk about each issue. Try to give your testimony on each issue in the order that things happened.

When you give your testimony, avoid giving opinions or making conclusions. Instead, state the facts. For example, instead of saying, "My daughter was sad," say, "When she gets picked up, my daughter cries and clings to me." This way, you only say what you saw, rather than making a conclusion about it.

The same applies to saying how you felt about or reacted to an event. Instead of saying you were shocked to learn something, just say what it was you learned.

It's also important to avoid being argumentative in your testimony. You want to appear calm and rational. So instead of saying, "Why should I always be the one to pick up the kids?" simply say that you pick up the children every day after school and from their music lessons.

Finally, remind yourself to speak slowly and clearly. Many people speak quickly when they're nervous, but you want to make sure everyone in the courtroom understands what you're saying.

Being questioned

The judge will often ask you some questions during or after your testimony. Not every judge will do this — it's up to each individual judge — but don't be surprised if this happens. The judge will also be taking notes while you speak and may need to interrupt you to make sure they understand what you're saying. This is normal and there's no need to be concerned if the judge interrupts you.

The other party may also question you during cross-examination. Cross-examination means that you and the other party are allowed to question each other and each other's witnesses. Be prepared to answer the other party's questions after you testify. You'll have the chance to cross-examine them as well.

Explore more resources for people representing themselves in Supreme Court on our family law website.

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Jointly developed by the Legal Services Society and the People's Law School, with generous funding from the Law Foundation of BC

Filmed and produced by Michael Augustine
Narrated by Winnifred Assmann
Written by Kate Hunt
Legally reviewed by Erin Shaw and Justice Victoria Gray
Courtroom photography by Dan Daulby
Image selection and titles by Brian Goncalves

Special thanks to:
Terresa Augustine
The Law Courts -- Vancouver

© Legal Services Society, BC, 2015

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