INTERVIEW: The role and importance of witness training

INTERVIEW: The role and importance of witness training

When senior barristers Jason Galbraith-Marten KC, Ed Williams KC and Paul Epstein KC sought a way of using their knowledge of the legal system to help the process go more smoothly, they didn’t have to look far. From being in court regularly they knew that many witnesses were hopelessly unprepared for the experience and so often gave poor evidence.

So the three of them began offering witness familiarisation courses that would take the mystery and fear out of the process and help witnesses articulate what they wanted to say.

Jason says: “So often we see people performing badly because they are nervous or stressed, because there is so much at stake. We thought, why don’t we just explain to people what is required of them and help them to perform to the best of their ability.”

Ed adds: “No-one would expect you to compete in the Tour de France without learning how to ride a bike first, because you would fall flat on your face, and yet that is what it can be like for someone appearing as a witness in court for the first time. Being cross examined by a skilful barrister is the most alien and difficult thing. Witness training helps people give their best in an unfamiliar and challenging environment and that improves their chance of giving the best possible evidence.”

They quickly realised that they had hit upon a real need. Since starting their business Assurety, in 2012, demand for their services has grown strongly as solicitors realised the huge difference that their training can make to a witness’s performance in court. Their clients now include prestigious law firms such as Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Simmons & Simmons and there is a very high retention rate, with solicitors using their services for a wide range of cases.

To make the experience as useful as possible, all their courses are run by two people – a top notch barrister who cross-examines the client on an issue relevant to their lives, and a communication expert who analyses and transforms their ability to get the message across. Assurety can provide more than 50 senior barristers as trainers in a wide range of specialist areas, as well as several high court judges.

Paul says: “The feedback we get from solicitors is just incredible. People love our training courses. I can see us getting to a point where solicitors automatically raise the possibility of witness familiarisation with their clients – in fact some already take the view that it would be negligent not to. Enormous resources are invested in the litigation process and it makes no sense at all to leave the witnesses un-shepherded like sheep on a field when it comes to giving evidence. People will look back and think, gosh, why weren’t we doing that?”

Jason adds: “We find that while some solicitors might initially be a bit sceptical about using us because they think they can do it themselves, once they have seen us in operation they realise that we are doing something infinitely more sophisticated and thorough than anyone else is doing and they come back to us again and again. If a solicitor is going to trial, they want to make sure they have done the best they possibly can for their client and preparing them properly has got to be an essential part of that. No-one wants a client to come out of court and say, I didn’t know it was going to be like that.”

From the start the three of them decided to run the business while continuing to practise as senior barristers, in the belief that this would enable them to provide the best possible advice and training to clients. They have all taken silk and between them have enormous experience in dealing with even the most complex cases.

Jason says: “We bring a high level of expertise and the fact that we are still in practise means that it is current expertise, which is crucial because the way in which litigation is conducted is evolving all the time.”

While the idea of providing witness training is relatively new in the UK, they firmly believe that it has a vital part to play in ensuring that true justice is done.

Paul says: “The more a witness is able to give accurate evidence about what he or she has done, seen or heard, the greater the chance that the judge will arrive at the accurate answer. We think we are doing something that is really helpful.”

Ed adds: “Anything that helps someone give their evidence to the best of their ability has got to be good for justice.”

The three of them have also begun to expand the business into other areas where good negotiation and communication skills are vital, and are now helping senior leaders in business get their message across effectively, whether that be negotiating with customers, pitching to investors or managing employees.

Their success is not just down to the quality of services they offer, however. It also has a lot to do with the effective way in which the three of them work together as a team.

Ed says: “There is tremendous strength in the power of three. It means that we can discuss, challenge and test ideas from different angles, and as a result the decisions we make tend to be robust.”

Jason adds: “We have complimentary skills and we balance each other out in a really good way. As barristers we are all quite outspoken and independent individuals, so we are constantly challenging each other about the ideas we have for the business and whether what we are doing is the best way of doing it. We all really enjoy running this business. We know that we are offering a service which will really help people and we get an absolute thrill out of that.”


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