How To Write a Court Assessment
As a professional we may be great at what we do, but there comes a time when we have to write a report for the court, and give evidence on it. The problem is that no matter how great you are at your job you will be judged only on your report and the evidence you give. It doesn’t seem fair in many ways as going to court is for most of us a very rare event and only a very small part of or work, unfortunately though it is a hugely important one! … and one we need to be really good at, and to get right!
So what do you need to do? Well you have a few options:
- To ask a colleague what you should put in your report / how to do an assessment (but how do you know they actually know what they are talking about)
- To copy someone else’s report writing style (but do you know that they were doing it right in the first place, or know what they are doing at court? They might have been doing it badly for years!)
- To actually do some research and to find out what actually goes into a report?
To be honest when I first started writing report’s I did the first two, everyone does … everyone learns this way. We ask the person next to us if they have done his type of report before and try our best to do something similar! It’s called learning on the job. Now here’s the problem, how do you know that your colleague is actually doing it right or knows what they are doing, or has any kind of clue about how to do a ‘bomb proof’ assessment that will stand up to cross examination? The answer is you don’t. They, and maybe your team might have been doing the same kind of report for years and doing a poor job of it. It might be that sometimes they have had to give evidence and it might also be that they were able to think on their feet and get through it.
Personally I don’t like leaving things to chance! And just getting through something isn’t good enough!
So what goes into a good report?
A logical argument - Well the first thing is that it has to be logical, it’s like showing the working out in doing a sum, if you just write the answer no one knows how you got there or if it’s right or wrong. If you show how you got to your answer no one can say it’s wrong. That goes for every section of the report as well as the report itself, by the time you get to the conclusions the reader should be nodding their heads and agreeing with you. It doesn’t matter what type of report your doing or for what profession, it applies to all.
Good English – If your English and spelling is poor people will assume you are slapdash in your work, and so your assessment, they will also assume you don’t know what your doing. I have seen people ridiculed in the witness box by barristers making this point. I suggest get someone good to proof read for you!
Gathering really good information – If you don’t know all the information / the whole story you are likely to be torn apart during cross examination. The same goes if you are unsure of the facts!
You need to leave no stone unturned, to find out as much as you can about the case and the wider issues, always have in mind what someone could ask you about!
The witness box, what you’re up against
The moment you step into the witness box you step out of the normal everyday world. You are under the microscope, you, your experience and your work can all be brought into question by people who are quite simply highly skilled and experienced at going through everything with a tooth comb, finding fault in everything you do and if possible making you look like an idiot. They are called solicitors and barristers. It is there job to bring into question your work, opinions and conclusions and to make you look incompetent. They will have spent hours or days looking through your work, believe me they will pick up on anything you haven’t looked into or missed!
Cross examination can last hours or days, barristers have their own styles and tricks, some are pleasant and logical in their approach others are confrontational or sarcastic. One guy I remember keenly banged the table with his fist, pointed, shouted and accused while cross examining me, a pretty formidable guy. Unfortunately for him my assessment was pretty bomb proof, logical reports, great information and a sound knowledge of the case defeat all these approaches. That is where you, and every professional needs to be when presenting a report to the court!
Be prepared, it’s all about preparation
It’s all about preparation, when you walk into the court you need to be ultra-confident you know your report and the case inside and out, you also need to know that you have done everything you can, or have been asked to do. You need to be armed with all the information you can possibly have and to preempt any questions you might be asked. I have tried to cover some of the basics in this blog, I hope you find them useful. If you want more detailed information, tips or guidance please follow this link: