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Guide to Cross Examination at Court Hearings for Self Reppers

Guide to Cross Examination at Court Hearings for Self Reppers

This is a brief guide on how a litigant in person should approach skeleton arguments and cross examination at an Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing or Final Hearing in Ancillary Relief.

Cross-examination: forget and ignore absolutely everything you have seen on TV...

Presenting your case is telling the Judge a narrative. You have filed a Form E, that is your basic storyline. You have asked (I expect) questions about your X's Form E. Now you need to pull it together one last time for the Judge.

Do remember that not only does this DJ not know what happened at the FDR, but they are not allowed to know what happened at the FDR. It is a horribly easy mistake to make, to say "but you said at the FDR..." Just be careful!

If you do your case outline/skeleton argument, call it what you prefer, that's your ­script­, for you and the Judge (and opponent). Get your main points in there and you've got a checklist, and if you are appearing in person the DJ can help you where necessary. They do, you know. As long as they know what you are trying to get at.

Make a list of things that you think are FINANCIALLY important that have not yet been established: that's what you are going to be cross examining on.

ALWAYS remember: a court hearing is an exercise in getting the relevant info clearly set out before the Judge. It is not, contrary to appearances, an argument between you and your spouse. It is each of you putting your case to the DJ. Part of that is done by asking the other person questions. But it is still part of putting your case across. If you get drawn into a verbal brawl, the text of your story gets lost, and you lose the DJ's attention on the bits you want them to concentrate on.

XX is not an opportunity to tell the X spouse that they are a lying rotten cheating whatever. Absolutely not a time for malicious character assassination. Its your chance to flesh out the important factual parts of your case by asking relevant questions. This is a skill that even lawyers learn only slowly, so you need to prepare carefully.

You can ask any question in XX, but there is no guarantee you'll get the reply you want. If you don't get the answer you want, don't keep asking the same question! Even some lawyers make this mistake. Put the question, maybe approach it once from a different angle (if there is one) but then move on. The DJ will note the question and take a view on how it is answered.

If you have evidence that backs up your argument, refer to it clearly, and have your notes to hand to enable you to do it, e.g. : Q: What happened to the £10,000 you had? A: What £10K? Q: The £10,000 in your Lloyds bank account on 1 Dec 2008, at page 102 of the bundle...

Do not shout, do not bully, do not be sarcastic. It sounds obvious, but its SOOOO easy to slip in the heat of battle... But DJs see it all the time and they get very bored by it. All the histrionics you see on TV may work in the occasional criminal trial, but they don't work in family cases. And generally they are very counterproductive. If you have a good point, it will come across. If you have to get excitable about a point, it suggests the point itself lacks merit or weight.

Try to make clear what point you are addressing with any question. Some are self explanatory, but if the DJ isn't clear what you are asking the question for, they will ask. They are trying to put all the evidence they hear together in order to reach a coherent conclusion.

Make sure you've got your points lined up logically so you don't have to keep hunting for the next question. But you don't have to hurry or be hurried. Do remember however that the case has a time limit: 3 hours, or a day, or whatever. And you are expected to fit your case into that. If its listed for 1 day and your XX takes 3 hours, you are going to get cut short by the DJ.

Practise! Really. Get your questions, stand or sit in front of the mirror (its a bit of an odd feeling, so helps mimic the odd feeling of being in court) and try putting your questions to your reflection. Saying them out loud is very different to reading them over to yourself in your head. If you are a good public speaker this probably isn't too hard, if not, this will stand you in good stead.

Know when to stop. You can't ask everything about everything. Work out the most important things you need to cover. Work out a logical order. Have a few spare questions if you have some time to spare, but remember that time works differently inside court rooms to the way it works outside: it goes much faster, so you have less time than you think.

Don't make your case more complicated than it needs to be. It will almost inevitably get more complicated during the course of the hearing, so try not to start off too complex. Pick your main themes, the strong elements of your case, and concentrate on getting them across (the case outline again, helps a lot). You want the DJ to understand clearly at all times what point you are trying to make.

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