Guidance for litigants in person on preparing a witness statement

This guidance is intended to help those representing themselves in private children law proceedings where they have been ordered by the court to prepare a witness statement. It is not a substitute for bespoke, independent, legal advice.

By way of general guidance on representing yourself on family law matters, first read our top tips for for representing yourself in court as a litigant in person.

When reading this, you may also find it useful to refer to the glossary of legal terms.

What is a witness statement?

It is a document to set out the factual evidence of the person writing the statement.  It should include all information that you wish the court to consider when making an order including the order you seek and the reasons why.

The document will be shared with other people involved in your case whether this be the other parent or another person with parental responsibility for your child, the court and/ or social workers or a Cafcass officer.

At a final hearing you may be asked questions about your statement by the judge/the other individuals involved in the proceedings or their legal representatives.

It is extremely important you therefore only include information you know to be true.

When are witness statements used?

Witness statements are typically used within disputed court proceedings for individuals to set out their factual version of events, or to provide further details in relation to allegations they are making in their application. A responding person will be able to use their witness statement to reply to the witness statement of the other individual(s) involved in the proceedings.

The court will tell you if they need a witness statement from you and give you a date by which this should be completed.  The court will often include specific guidance about the topics they wish you to address and the format of such statement, for example the length of the statement. It is important that you limit your statement to address only those matters that the judge has asked for.

What is the purpose of a witness statement?

The statements are used to provide the court with more information to assist it in making a final order.

Additional documents

Additional documents can also be attached to witness statements. These are referred to as ‘exhibits’ and can be used to support the comments you make.  For example, a letter from your GP to provide evidence of any health concerns, or a text message to show communication between you and the other person involved in the proceedings.

You should aim to include only documents which are relevant to a specific matter, and which go to support what you are saying in your witness statement and/or disprove or contradict what the other person may be saying.

You should organise any documents you are referring to in your witness statement into one combined bundle with numbered pages, you can then cross-refer the page number when referring to specific documents in your witness statement.  An excessive amount of documentation is unlikely to assist the court.  Try to keep within the page limit that you will hopefully have been given.

Statement of truth

A witness statement is an important document, and you will need to sign a statement of truth (see example below). You could be held in contempt of court if you are found to have lied in your witness statement which could lead to you being fined, made to do unpaid work or in extreme circumstances, even sent to prison.

How to structure a witness statement

The court may direct you to use the template form C120  when preparing your witness statement.

When using this form, you should be mindful that you are still only required to answers the questions and address the issues which are relevant to you. It will assist the judge if you can avoid including commentary which is not related to the issues before the court.

You should also consider any order the judge has made. There may be further details in the order giving you directions about exactly what information the judge wants you to include in your witness statement. You should ensure that you focus on these issues only and ensure that you comment on any specific points the judge has asked about, even if they are not referred to on the C120 form. If a judge has asked you for commentary on a point that is not expressly provided for on the C120 form, you should address those points within box 21 of the C120.

If you are not using the C120 form, you should set your witness statement out as shown in this Template Witness Statement for use by LIPs.

The Family Procedure Rules

The Family Procedure Rules act as a rulebook for conducting family law proceedings and Practice Direction 22A provides some further guidance on witness statements which may be useful to you. You will see there is further guidance as to how to structure your statement and more information on presenting exhibits. It is hoped that the information provided here will be sufficient to assist you, but the Family Procedure Rules may be helpful if you have a specific question that is not covered by this document.