A Judge’s Muse: There’s Always Something That Gives a Tutored Witness Away

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Written by HW Emmanuel J. Samaila

He walked into the court premises with an air of importance.

8.35am

The Judge, from a vantage view in his Chambers, watched him and other court users, through a slight opening in the blind.

Beaming with a delighted smile and chatting heartily, he was having a good time with the plaintiff and others in a small group.

His euphoria was contagious.

He must have dreamt the previous night of how his bravado in Court will earn him a prominent spot in his hamlet’s folklore.

9.10am

“All witnesses in this matter should be out of Court and out of hearing”, said the Judge whose voice pierced the pin-drop silence in the courtroom.

He was called as PW2 after the plaintiff testified as PW1.

He was brimming with confidence as he sauntered into the Witness Box.

His puzzled look was conspicuous after the Clerk asked him to raise his right hand to be sworn.

It appeared he was unaware that his evidence will be taken under oath.

“Ni, ……., na dauki alkawari cewa shaida da zan bayar a Kotu yau, zan fada gaskiya. Idan na yi karya, masifan karya da azaban karya su bi ni.”

(I, ……, hereby affirm that the evidence I shall give in Court today, shall be the truth. If I should lie, the consequences of lying should befall me.”)

Actually, the oath in Hausa is more foreboding.

The sobriety with which he testified was not unnoticed.

He made just two statements and was done.

His testimony was neither here nor there such that the defendant had no question for him.

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Aware that all eyes are fixed on him, he lowered his face to avoid the plaintiff’s stare and the Judge’s gaze.

With calculated steps, he meandered to a seat at the rear of the Courtroom after he was discharged.

Apparently, he could not narrate the tutored tale he had rehearsed as the weight of the oath he had sworn leaned heavily on him.

If there was ever a time that a witness’ demeanour greatly aided a judex’ subsequent evaluation of evidence, that was it.

Such observations are usually impressed on the judex, not reflected in the record of proceedings.

Moments like this constitute one of the reasons for hearing a matter de novo.

No matter how well-tutored a witness may be, there’s always something that gives him away in the course of his testimony.

That thing may be manifested either during the examination-in-chief or cross-examination.

The Judge does not only listen to what is being said but also takes mental note of how it is being said and other surrounding circumstances such as non-verbal communications between a witness and a party’s counsel or any other person in court.

Of course, things like forgetfulness, fidgeting, nervousness or even stammering may be telltale signs that a witness has been tutored but they could actually be caused by stage fright, which is normal.

The judex must learn to distinguish these with the aid of other surrounding circumstances in the courtroom during the hearing.

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