A district judge has pleaded with solicitors to bring their witness statements up to scratch if they want to succeed at trial.
Keith Etherington (pictured), speaking at a Law Society conference, said the quality of witness statements was the number one area for improvement among litigators.
The former solicitor-advocate, who made the bench last year, urged firms not to leave responsibility for preparing witness statements solely with the most junior members of staff, and to supervise and check their work instead.
‘Time and time again I see, particularly in personal injury or RTA cases, there is no sensible narrative about where the duty of care lies and what caused the accident. It is the simple building blocks of a witness statement and it’s not good enough,’ said Etherington.
‘They are more interested in what the weather was or how long the ambulance took to arrive. They have not applied their mind to actually what the accident is about – does this witness statement prove liability? If you read the statement and can’t be satisfied then something is wrong.’
Etherington said he had one recent case where the claimant firm produced a single letter from the client as evidence in chief, then sought almost £2,000 in costs for the preparation of witness statement.
‘There was an absolute disconnect between the work that was done and the schedules,’ he added.
‘Unfortunately there are areas where you can give yourselves a bad name. It is given to the most junior members of staff who are not qualified – they don’t transfer their thoughts into a witness statement, and you’ve got to get that right.’
Etherington said counsel was often left hoping for the judge to ask certain questions to get certain facts in front of them.
The judge also made one further plea to solicitors to progress the case even without directions from the court.
‘Almost everybody seems to wait until a directions order before they take steps everybody knows are coming next.
‘You can wait three months for fast-track directions or get on with it – the sooner it is done the sooner you get paid so get on with the things you know are going to happen.’