How is oral evidence dealt with at Fitness to Practise hearings?
It is now common practice for witnesses who are to give evidence at an FTP to provide a written witness statement in advance of the hearing. That statement should set out the witnesses’ account of the relevant events.
At the hearing witnesses may be called by either the prosecution or the defence. When the turn comes for a witness to give evidence, they are called to the witness stand and asked to take an oath or make an affirmation to tell the truth. The panel chair will typically introduce the witness to the other panel members and explain who else is in the room before indicating that the representative for the party who has called the witness can begin their questioning. Thus, if the prosecution has “called” a witness the prosecution lawyer will be the first to ask that witness questions. However, those questions will often be limited to a few questions confirming that the witness has provided a witness statement previously and confirming that they have read that statement recently and asking whether there are any aspects of the statement they would wish to change or correct. This process is called “examination-in-chief”. During examination-in-chief the witness should only be asked open questions, not leading questions. However, where aspects of the witness’s evidence, such as their qualifications, are not in dispute leading questions will usually be acceptable.
Once the examination-in-chief has concluded the other party’s representative is permitted to ask the witness questions. This is referred to as “cross-examination”. During cross-examination the questioner may ask leading questions and challenge the truth or accuracy of the account which is being provided. After cross-examination it is common for the panellists to ask some questions by way of clarification.
If the proceedings are interrupted during a witness’s evidence, e.g for a lunch break, the witness remains bound by their oath/affirmation and is not permitted to speak to anyone else about their evidence or the case. Traditionally this is referred to as being “in purdah”.
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