This guide was last updated in August 2011.

A witness statement is a formal document containing your own account of the facts relating to issues arising in a dispute. Comments made in the statement should be limited to fact, and comments based on opinion should be kept to a minimum.

The purpose of the witness statement is to provide written evidence to support a party's case that will, if necessary, be used as evidence in court. The statement is a crucial part of the case, designed to show it in its strongest light. It is important, therefore, to ensure that the statement is accurate and comprehensive.

How will it be prepared?

Typically a lawyer will meet you to discuss the issues on which you can give evidence – this is called taking a proof of evidence. It is likely to involve the lawyer asking you to review documents that relate to the dispute, either at the meeting itself or before, and asking you questions about important events – for example, your account of a particular meeting or discussions with the other party about a transaction.

The statement must be in your own words. It is therefore important that you understand what is included in your statement and that it accurately reflects your account of the facts.

Depending on the complexity of the dispute, the proofing exercise could be relatively short. In some instances it could be a longer exercise, taking place over several days.  You will usually be able to refresh your memory by reference to contemporaneous documents.

After the statement has been taken, a draft will be produced for you to review and amend where necessary. It is often the case that there will be several drafts of the statement. Once you are satisfied, you will be asked to sign and date it and the statement will become your 'proof of evidence'. It will normally be edited further for the purposes of producing a witness statement in court proceedings - in this case, you will be asked to sign a 'statement of truth' contained in the witness statement.

Who will get to see the witness statement?

After the statement has been signed, a copy of it will normally be disclosed - along with all other witness statements - to the other party. The other party will disclose the witness statements in support of its case at the same time.

After exchange of witness statements, you will have the opportunity to review the other party's witness statements which deal with those issues addressed in your evidence. It may be necessary to prepare a supplemental witness statement where, for example, there are factual inaccuracies in the evidence contained in the other party's statements.

Statement of truth

This is a statement at the end of a witness statement, which states that the witness believes the facts in the witness statement are true and accurate.

Proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against a witness who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement which is verified by a statement of truth in a witness statement where there is no honest belief in that truth.