Businesses may need to send someone to court for a variety of reasons; from recovering an unpaid debt or contractual overpayment, to defending a personal injury claim or tax action brought against them by HMRC. Whatever the circumstances, there will be a need for evidence to support their position and often this will come from people who have first-hand knowledge about what has happened or the circumstances leading up to a dispute.
If you have been asked to provide a witness statement for use in a business case, or perhaps to hand over relevant documents, then you may feel anxious about what this will involve. However, as Barry Wood, dispute resolution expert with Richard Reed Solicitors explains:
‘There is actually no need to be unduly concerned, as your company’s solicitor will help ensure that the process is straightforward, that you receive appropriate support and even that you get reimbursed for your time and expenses.’
So, what should you expect? Barry highlights the key points.
Where you are asked to provide a witness statement, for example to confirm how a debt arose or how a contract was negotiated, then this will normally be prepared on your behalf following a face-to-face meeting, a telephone call, or a video conference. It will be written in your own words and confined to dealing only with facts that are within your own knowledge or which are matters of information or personal belief.
You must be satisfied with the accuracy of the information your statement contains, as it will have to be verified by a statement of truth which confirms that you have an honest belief in the correctness of what you have said and that you understand you could be sanctioned by the court if you give a statement that you know to be false.
Where you are asked to produce documents in your possession, or which are under your control and considered relevant to the case, then you will normally be asked to do this on a voluntary basis first and then, if you refuse, by compulsion via a court order.
If you believe that you have a right or legal duty to refuse to comply with a document request, then it is important that you raise this with the solicitor as soon as possible. This might be the case where production of a document would put you in breach of a contractual obligation or where the document contains something that might personally incriminate you.
Going to court
If you are asked to go to court in connection with a business matter, then it will be up to the judge handling the case to determine the nature of the questions you may be asked.
You will not be expected to recount the details of your witness statement in full, but you may be asked to expand on what you have said or to answer questions about a particular issue where your recollection of events differs from those of another witness or the other party to the proceedings. You may also be asked about any events that have occurred since your statement was made and provided to the other side.
Where you are likely to experience any difficulty in attending court, for example because you are due to be abroad on the relevant date, then it may be possible for you to give evidence via video link instead. This will be entirely in the court’s discretion.
Where a question is put to you that could be incriminating if you were to answer it, or which could expose you to the risk of some other form of penalty, then you may have a right to refuse to comment depending on the circumstances.
Overcoming potential obstacles
If you are happy to provide witness or documentary evidence, but you are being prevented from doing so by contractual or practical restraints, then it may be possible for these to be overcome – either by the issue of a witness summons or some other court order.
For example, if you are happy to attend court but your employer is refusing to give you the day off, then a witness summons compelling your attendance will usually resolve this.
Likewise, if you are subject to statutory or contractual obligations which prohibit confidential documents or information covered by data protection rules from being disclosed without a court order, then it may be possible for such an order to be obtained.
Payment of expenses
If you incur costs because of having to go to court, then you will be entitled to claim compensation to reflect this. The amount you can claim will depend on the circumstances but will include your travel costs and a reasonable amount to reflect any loss of earnings that you incur as a result of having to take unpaid time off work.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.