Witnesses are crucial in lawsuits

Think of some high profile cases and imagine what would have happened if there were no witnesses. Consider:

  • Robert Pickton’s case, in which over 120 witnesses were presented;
  • Robert Dziekanski’s final video-taped moments at the Vancouver Airport and how the RCMP officers deliberately misrepresented their actions; and
  • Geoff Mantler’s kick on Buddy Tavares, which was witnessed and video-recorded by Castanet’s Kelly Hayes.

Witnesses were CRUCIAL in these cases to ensure that the truth was unearthed.

I can appreciate, though, that people can be hesitant to lend a hand... Sometimes, in criminal cases, witnesses can be nervous about retribution. That is an understandable (but often misguided) fear and one that should be discussed with police and Crown Prosecutors.

Sometimes, though, people are hesitant to be witnesses for other reasons, such as selfishness or carelessness. I’ll give you an example…

For some context, witness interviewing and preparation is a big part of my job. My initial witness interviews typically take around 15 minutes to complete. My questions are not hard or technical; I merely ask about someone’s observations or memories of an event, such as a car crash. If someone cannot remember something, then that’s perfectly fine – I don’t want someone “filling in the blanks” with false memories. And I appreciate that people have busy lives, so I often stay late in the office to contact witnesses (after the witness has finished work).

Now, in this example, my client slipped on some ice and suffered some injuries. Immediately after the fall, someone came upon my client to assist. Obviously, this person was a great position to comment on what the ground looked like when my client fell.

So, I call the witness. And, frustration ensued…

I asked, “Was the ground coated with ice or snow?” I asked, “Was the ground difficult to stand on?” After a few moments, the witness said, “This is why people don’t want to help other people”. That was VERY disappointing to hear...

Now, I am confident that the witness was having an “off day”, as they later provided helpful and useful information for my client.

Fortunately, this sort of situation is the exception, rather than the rule. I have conducted hundreds of witness interviews and I struggle to think of more than one or two uncooperative witnesses.

The reason I may sound so frustrated with uncooperative witnesses is because witnesses are CRUCIAL: they MAKE or BREAK cases. Think about it: if witnesses don’t come forward to describe an event, justice can easily be lost.

So, here’s a tip: if you are involved in an altercation, whether it be a landlord/tenant disagreement, a car crash, a fight, or a dispute involving your work, be sure to get the names/contact information of witnesses who can comment on what they saw or heard. It can make the WORLD of a difference...

And, if someone asks you to be a witness for their case, please take the time to help out. If you do, you would have just played a very important and crucial role in someone else’s plight for justice. And, at the very least, it’s good karma.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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