The prospect of a final hearing can in itself be incredibly intimidating, and the added pressure of having to potentially give evidence can be overwhelming.
In this article, I am going to explain what to expect when you attend a final hearing, as well as some useful tips regarding giving evidence.
I have previously written an article providing guidance about attending court for the first time.
What is a Final Hearing?
A final hearing will be listed where the issues between the parties remain unresolved. A Judge will make the final decision.
In the lead up to the final hearing, you will probably have prepared a statement explaining what you are seeking the Court to consider, and why.
The final hearing will begin with both parties’ legal representative giving an opening statement, which will include a summary of each party’s case. Next, the court will hear evidence. Usually any professional witnesses, such as social workers or Cafcass officers will be heard first, followed by the applicant and then the respondent.
During your evidence, lawyers for each side will take turns to ask you questions. Your lawyer may ask you some questions to clarify or update your written evidence. The other party will then have the opportunity to ask you some questions. This is known as cross-examination.
If you are feeling particularly anxious in the lead up to giving evidence in the presence of your ex-partner, speak to your legal advisor and they can arrange for special measures to be put in place at the court such as screens in the court room. For further information in this area, please refer to my previous article on “Attending court as a vulnerable person”.
When it is your turn to give evidence you will move to a different area of the court, usually between the Judge and the other people within the court room. You will be asked to give either an oath on your chosen religious text or a non-religious affirmation. This is you promising to the court that to the best of your knowledge you are telling the truth. If you are found to be lying while giving evidence you will be in contempt of court.
After hearing all the evidence, the judge will take a short break before delivering their judgment. Sometimes they will ‘reserve’ judgment and order that all parties return to court at a later date, usually a week or so. On occasion they will provide a written version of their judgment if the case is particularly complicated. The judgment may include an Order being made, but in some cases, it may be considered preferable for there to be no order made at all.
Re-read the contents of your statement(s) in advance
Familiarise yourself with the contents of your statement so that you feel more prepared if you are asked questions about it.
You cannot bring your own notes or any other papers into the witness box. If you feel that any of them would be of use, you will need the judge’s permission in order to use them.
There should be a paper bundle in front of you when you give your evidence, which will include all of the papers that have been filed with the court throughout your case, including any statements.
Take your time
Make sure you understand the question being asked. You can always ask for the question to be repeated or rephrased. If you are asked a question about something contained within a document, you can ask to be shown its whereabouts in the bundle so that you can read through and ensure you understand before answering.
Try to avoid going off topic if you can.
Ask for a break
The purpose of cross-examination is to test the evidence before the court. If you find yourself feeling too emotional at any given time, you can ask for a break.
If you do not know or cannot remember something, say that. This is your opportunity to put your case forward for the Judge or Magistrates. Similarly, if you make a mistake, admit to it straightaway and correct it if possible.
Direct your answers to the Judge or Magistrates
The nature of cross-examination can feel like you are being attacked but try not to take this personally. Testing the evidence is part of the process and helps the judge to establish the facts at hand.
They will be closely following your answers to each question in order to come to their final decision.
Keep it to yourself
Once you have started giving evidence, you will not be able to speak with anyone about your case until after your evidence has concluded.
Furthermore, if another witness is accompanying you to court, such as a family member or friend, they cannot sit in on the conference between yourself and your legal representative before the hearing.
In the lead up to your final hearing, I suggest you make an appointment to meet with your solicitor to get advice on what to expect before going to court.
If you would like help and support please contact our specialist Children team who will be happy to help.