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What is Evidence in Chief?

There are many reasons why there could be a workplace investigation: sexual harassment, misconduct, bullying, theft and fraud. Whenever there is an investigation, the alleged offender must be afforded balanced and fair proceedings to provide them with every opportunity to tell their side of the story.

A workplace investigation carries many legal requirements – in a lot of ways, it is not too dissimilar to a Court of Law. That means the prosecution asserts the alleged offender’s guilt, while the accused employee is the defence.

During the proceedings, witnesses will be called by the prosecution and defence to gather a complete account to enable a fair decision to be reached. When the prosecution calls forward their witnesses, it intends to use their recollections of events to prove the guilt of the alleged offender. The testimony that the prosecution’s witnesses tender is called Evidence in Chief.

The rules that need to be adhered to with Evidence in Chief

Only an adult over 18 years old is allowed to be a witness at a tribunal in a workplace investigation. A witness can deliver evidence in one of three ways, in an oral presentation, the admission of a physical object or the presentation of documents.

You must take an oath or an affirmation in a workplace investigation tribunal, just the same as a court of law. An oath is for those with religious convictions (swearing on the bible), and an affirmation is for those with none. Either way, you are compelled to give a truthful account.

Some questions cannot be asked by the prosecution or defence, which is important to note. These types of questions include:

  • Leading questions: This line of questioning is where you are putting words in the witness’ mouth or trying to get them to provide a specific answer that you want them to give. For example, a leading question could be: “You went into that office, and you took the money, didn’t you?”. The prosecution and defence are required to ask open questions like “Were you in the office that day?” or “Did you take that money from the office?”.
  • Irrelevant questions: All Evidence in Chief provided by witnesses must be relevant to the matter at hand. If the prosecution or defence wants to ask questions where the relevance might not be immediately apparent, they must explain to the tribunal why it should be allowed.
  • Hearsay: Witnesses can only provide Evidence in Chief based on what they have seen or heard. It is not admissible evidence if the witness delivers information that they heard from someone else to support another person’s statement.
  • Opinion: The only time a witness can be asked for their opinion is when it falls into the realm of common sense. For example, if there has been a workplace incident where a forklift has crashed and caused damage and injury, they can be asked their opinion on whether the forklift was speeding at the time. They cannot be asked their opinion on the mechanical condition of the machine (unless they are qualified to do so) or the medical condition of the person operating it.

If you have been called to provide evidence, you may be asked to read your statement out loud to the tribunal. You will be queried on how you carried out your role in the investigation, what you have seen, what you have heard and any admissions or confessions you have been privy to. Just stay calm and deliver the truth to all questions in clear and simple terms, and you will have fulfilled your duties under the rules of Evidence in Chief.

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