31 Jan 2017

Giving expert witness testimony from the bench!


3 min

A logistical and unconventional experience.

Many readers have experienced giving evidence in a court and probably more of you are experienced in putting the questions to the witnesses.  Of course, attending court and providing expert evidence is an integral part of my role as a forensic accountant; however, more often than not, the matter settles before it actually goes to court.  Only recently, I had a matter settle literally as I picked up my phone to walk out the door for my scheduled appearance—and my walk was only going to be about 200 metres!

When meeting referrers for the first time, I’m usually asked whether I’ve had any experience "in the box".  The answer to that is a resounding "yes". To further emphasise this a few months ago I had the unique experience of sitting in the Judge's chair in the Federal Court in Brisbane. That is something not too many people can say they have done.

How did that happen you may ask?

The Judge had ruled that the two experts in this particular case were to give concurrent evidence.  When we arrived at the Court it was apparent we wouldn’t fit in the witness box at the same time and, if we were separated, the problem arose around how the proceedings would be recorded.  Eventually, after some figurative head-scratching, it was decided that we would sit at the bench and the Judge would occupy the witness box.

The Judge resumed the proceedings from his usual position and then took his place in the witness box while the experts (the other expert witness and I) were sworn in. I was actually given the Judge's chair—and what a view it is from there!

My previous expert witness appearances were not for overly extended periods: maybe 30 minutes to an hour each.  I really didn’t know what I expected this time, however, even an hour would have been a gross underestimation of how long it would take.

We commenced giving our concurrent evidence after the lunchtime adjournment and it continued until after lunch the following day, and then there was the opportunity for cross-examination of each witness.  I was the second expert to be cross-examined and at one stage it seemed I would have to return the following Monday, but the Judge allowed questions beyond what he ordinarily would and our proceedings concluded around 4.45pm.

Unfortunately, courtroom etiquette and common sense prevailed and I wasn't able to get a photograph for the trophy wall, but when asked about my courtroom experience . . . I now have quite a unique story to tell.

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