Witness Familiarisation

Richard Butler is a High Court Advocate (Civil) as well as Visiting Professor of Dispute Resolution at Nottingham Law School and a freelance trainer and training consultant. With many years of trial experience in the High Court and also witness examination in arbitrations, Richard has guided many witnesses through the demanding process of giving evidence. He has himself given evidence in the High Court.

The English judiciary requires that witness familiarisation is carried out in such a way that the evidence given remains that of the witness. Richard ensures scrupulous adherence to the Bar Council Code of Conduct, the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, professional guidance and to relevant judicial pronouncements on witness familiarisation. The general objective is to help each witness to give their own uninfluenced evidence as clearly as possible, for the benefit of the tribunal. Witnesses must not be coached in the evidence they will give to the tribunal and they must not be confused in the evidence they give as a result of some factual or other similarity between the actual case and a fictional case used for mock cross-examinations. The familiarisation process must be conducted in such a way that the witness could confidently describe it to the court in full while giving evidence with no concern that the tribunal would regard the evidence as in any way tainted.

This is best achieved if Richard knows nothing about the actual case and if no-one with knowledge of the case other than the witness is present during the familiarisation. It is a condition of Richard taking on familiarisation that the witness is told that he must know nothing about the case.

International Arbitrations

The objectives described above reflect the expectations of English judges sitting in civil courts. The expectations of lawyers and others from different jurisdictions sitting as arbitrators may well be different. The general objective should remain the same - to help each witness to give their own uninfluenced evidence as clearly as possible, for the benefit of the tribunal. As always, any familiarisation process must be conducted in such a way that the witness can confidently describe it to the tribunal in full while giving evidence with no concern that they will regard the evidence as in any way tainted. But the composition of an international tribunal may well suggest that different expectations may exist for how these objectives can be acheived and in some cases even the most scrupulous familiarisation may be objectionable. This needs to be discussed before any familiarisation is planned.

Organising the session

Sessions can be arranged to suit the witness or witnesses concerned. Sometimes, if wanted, a general briefing about the process and the practices of the relevant forum (typically taking about 60-75 minutes) can be given in a class room environment with several witnesses at once. If a "classroom" briefing is in mind, these additional points must be considered:

Mock cross-examinations are normally conducted, with video feedback and opportunities to have another go. For the mock cross-examinations, Richard will supply a simple case study. Assuming the solicitor confirms that the actual case does not concern a road traffic accident, the case study is normally an RTA for witnesses of fact. Expert witnesses receive another simple case study in a relevant discipline but again factually different to the real case. Neither takes much time to read. A judicial concern in England is that case studies used for witness familiarisation should not resemble the fact pattern of the actual case before the court, both to avoid coaching in the evidence to be given and confusion in the witness's mind.

Click witness familiarisation programme for more information.

Court Visits

Richard can accompany witneseses on court visits and interpret what the witness sees. For witnesses giving evidence before arbitrators, Richard can arrange a viewing of a DVD depicting a realistic mock arbitration before 3 international arbitrators, including witness examination.


It is often convenient (and economical) for the instructing solicitors to make available a room and to supply or hire the equipment necessary for the mock examinations, namely:

If this is not possible, Richard can organise a venue and equipment at additional cost.


Richard charges £225 an hour plus travel expenses (standard rail fare to London, first class rail fare out of London, economy air fare in Europe and business class air fare out of Europe) and international call charges plus any venue costs plus VAT. A written report, including copies of all documents used, will be provided within the price. When it comes to time spent travelling, particularly foreign travel, Richard can provide a quotation once he knows what is involved.