1.6.1 – Charge: Assessing Witnesses
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In order to decide what the facts are in this case, you will need to assess the witnesses who give evidence. It is up to you to decide how much or how little of the testimony of any witness you will believe or rely on. You may believe all, some or none of a witness’s evidence. It is also for you to decide what weight should be attached to any particular evidence – that is, the extent to which the evidence helps you to determine the relevant issues.
In assessing witnesses’ evidence, matters which may concern you include their credibility and reliability. Credibility concerns honesty – is the witness telling you the truth? Reliability may be different. A witness may be honest, but have a poor memory or be mistaken.
It is for you to judge whether the witnesses are telling the truth, and whether they correctly recall the facts about which they are giving evidence. This is something you do all the time in your daily lives. There is no special skill involved – you just need to use your common sense.
In making your assessment, you should appreciate that giving evidence in a trial is not common, and may be a stressful experience. So you should not jump to conclusions based on how a witness gives evidence. Looks can be deceiving. People react and appear differently. Witnesses come from different backgrounds, and have different abilities, values and life experiences. There are too many variables to make the manner in which a witness gives evidence the only, or even the most important, factor in your decision.
You should keep an open mind about the truthfulness or accuracy of the witnesses until all of the evidence has been presented. This is because it is only once you have heard all of the evidence that it will be possible to assess to what extent, if any, the other evidence in the case confirms, explains or contradicts a particular witness's evidence.
In making your decision, do not consider only the witnesses’ testimony. Also take into account the exhibits [and admissions]. Consider all of the evidence in the case, use what you believe and reject what you disbelieve. Give each part of it the importance which you – as the judge of the facts – think it should be given, and then determine what, in your judgment, are the true facts.
Last updated: 19 December 2006