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Evidence for court is in two parts: written and oral. Most cases are dealt with on the strength of written evidence and this can avoid the need for an individual to give evidence from the witness box. Written evidence is in the control of the writer and can give a lot of confidence if he is called to court to give oral evidence later. Lawyers and experts need to apply some basic principles when writing and reading reports.

Most important is that the report must be written in a way that is easy to understand. Readers of court reports are not experts, so do not assume they will understand technical information and terms without a clear explanation.

Many writers think they have to impress the reader. This is not the case. The role is as an educator explaining a difficult area to someone who has to make a decision based in part on what is written.

Quality report writing is about the communication of ideas. The way those ideas are presented affects the weight given to them. To be effective, the writer should consider: what does the reader need to know to understand the report; who is the reader; what is the purpose of the report?

Experts give opinion evidence on the facts of the case. The first step is to set out clearly what the facts are. Build a foundation of fact upon which to place the opinion. The role of an expert is to give an independent view on the facts to help the court come to a decision. Often experts confuse fact and opinion.

All reports should contain: chronology (if appropriate); clear headings; contents page; date; front sheet; glossary of technical terms; graphics to illustrate points raised; headers; numbered pages, paragraphs and graphics; short sentences and paragraphs expressed in the first person, and should be signed.

Hints and tips for writers

Read other people's reports;

beware of assumptions;

you need clear instructions before you can start;

imagine yourself being a judge as you re-read your report;

look at all the possible arguments you can think of. Do not just put down your first opinion. The other expert in the case will go through a similar process;

state the obvious – simplicity is essential.

Excellent report writing takes careful thought. You might consider formal training – a report is an ambassador both for the expert and the lawyer. If it is of poor quality, this will reflect on both. However, if it is excellent, it can do wonders for both your reputations. It is worth getting it right.