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We know that presenting evidence to a courtroom can be a nervy experience – after all, you are depending upon your evidence to ensure the best outcome is achieved for your child or young person.

We’ve asked experience social work trainer Jo Spender to share her thoughts on how social workers can make the most of the courtroom experience.

We hope that these practical hints and tips will make your life much easier during your courtroom preparations.

Taking practical steps to support your preparations.

As a social worker one of the most anxiety provoking tasks that you can face is giving evidence in court. There will be many occasions where you arrive at court and it will feel like everything has been decided outside the court room following negotiation between the two parties and a resolution will be presented for approval by the judge.

However, there will be times that you have to attend a full contested hearing and there are some practical steps you can take to make the experience less stressful.

1. Look ahead at your calendar

Firstly, manage your diary, you could easily be in court all week, make sure all appointments are covered or rearranged. There is nothing worse than having the office call you wondering why they have an angry service user on their hands because you have not turned up.

2. Know what you are planning to say

Know your statement, you will have almost certainly submitted a written statement of evidence, read and re-read this. You will be questioned on this so make sure know it well.

Consider which are the points that you are most likely to questioned on and prepare your answers. Make sure that you have made time to meet with your legal representative prior to the hearing so you are clear on the issues that you think will be raised. Make sure you have considered with your line manager what are the areas that are non-negotiable, it maybe that you asked to consider some compromises, be clear on these areas, if there are any!

You can take a copy of your statement into the witness box - but remember anything you take into the witness box becomes evidence, so if you take contemptuous note book in consider how confident you feel answering questions on something quickly scrawled as a reminder. I always just took a copy of the statement.

3. Take a few moments to breathe

When answering questions make sure you speak clearly and slowly, this will give you time to consider what you are saying and not become flustered. Only answer the question that you are asked, you may feel there is a key point that you need to get across, if it is that significant your own legal representative will make sure you get the opportunity to put this across.

If you are unsure about the answer to a question, then say so - remember you are under oath or affirmation and you can come unstuck if challenged further. If you would need to review some information in order to give an accurate answer, then say so.

When answering questions, make sure you turn and face the judge when giving answers. They are the one making the final decision, and in doing this it will prevent you from getting into “head to head” confrontation with the legal representation.

4. Think about how you are coming across

When you are appearing at court remember you are representing the organisation and how you present will reflect on this. Consistent good presentation will not only enhance your organisations reputation but will impact on your own personal reputation the next time you are back in court.

There is no better feeling than being than being commended by the judge on your work, and no worse feeling than being criticised for not knowing your case and not being prepared.

5. Don’t forget about why you are there

When you go to court do not forget how significant a process this is for a service user.

This is quite possibly one of the most significant decisions that can be made in a service users life, therefore it is important that the best possible outcome is achieved. This may feel like one of the most stressful days as a practitioner, but remember you are dealing with a service users’ life and they may not agree with the proposed course of action and have to live with the outcome, so be sensitive to this and consider that they maybe feelings of anger and hostility.

What can you learn from the courtroom experience?

Lastly, once the hearing has concluded remember to take some time to reflect on the process and use it as a learning opportunity to think about what went well and what areas do you think you could improve on. If you have the opportunity ask your legal representative to give you feedback on how you presented in the witness box, did they feel confident in what you were presenting?

Nothing will prevent giving evidence in court as being anxiety provoking, in the same way a job interview produces nerves. However, similarly good preparation and planning can put in the best position to obtain the best outcome and will leave you feeling confident in your own ability and the hopefully it will not be so onerous next time.

We hope that you’ve found these tips useful and that they will help you next time you prepare to visit the courtroom. If you’d like to learn more about Jo’s wide range of training courses, why not look at her website where you can see her wide range of training seminars.
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