A witness is considered to be a person, other than a defendant, who is likely to give evidence in court. All victims are also regarded as witnesses.
A witness may be defined as one who sees, knows or vouches for something.
The law is clear, one must not rehearse, practise or coach a witness in relation to his or her evidence.
A case can be won or lost by the performance of the witness on the day. Care must be taken that one does not stand accused of 'coaching'. A court is an intimidating place. It can destabilise even a confident witness.
All lawyers will want to avoid a case being lost by an honest witness performing nervously and poorly on the witness stand. Witnesses must be sufficiently knowledgeable and comfortable to be confident of giving a brave performance on the courtroom stage.
It may be a contempt of court to interfere with attempts by the other side to interview a witness, or to prohibit the other side from getting facts from them. However, such contempt will only arise if the interference is deemed to be improper.
The Commercial Court in a recent case (2013) stressed that what constitutes improper interference with a witness is fact-sensitive.
It is not possible to be prescriptive. In practice, the court will look at the reality of what has occurred to make a determination on whether any form of improper pressure has been applied to the witness, thereby leaving a case open to appeal or complaint to an Ombudsman.
- Rosemary Craig is a law lecturer at the University of Ulster