Opening and Closing a Case
If opening a case you should always introduce yourself and the other side to the Court. For example: Your Honour/Sir/Madam/Master I appear in this case for the Claimant and my friend Mr/Miss/Mrs. appears for the Defendant.
In a civil trial the claimant’s solicitor will make the opening speech. The opening speech involves taking the judge through the statements of the case and providing an outline and guide to your case. It should provide a summary of the evidence that will be produced and should not go into any details in relation to the content of the testimony. The opening speech will detail the issues to be decided and you should provide a summary of the facts that you seek to establish. However, in the county court the defendant’s solicitor can make the opening speech and if they do they are not entitled to make a closing speech, without the leave of the court. You should hand the judge a bundle of documents and take him or her through the chronology of the matter to provide the judge with a picture of the events in the case. The opening speech should be lively and interesting to engage the court. You should use plain language and use eye contact to build rapport with the judge. You should refer to your client by his or her name in order to personalise them, and refer to the other side, for example as the ‘respondent/defendant’ etc.
Following the opening speech the claimant will give their evidence. This is done by oral examination and the sequence of the questioning is examination-in-chief of the claimant’s side (to include witnesses), cross-examination by the defendant’s side, re-examination. The defendant will then give their evidence and can make an opening speech. The judge can, however, dispense with this, particularly in fast-track cases. The sequence of questioning for the defendant’s evidence (to include witnesses) is examination-in-chief by the defendant’s side, cross-examination by the claimant’s side and re-examination.
The defendant may make a closing speech and the claimant will then make a closing speech. In a civil matter the claimant’s solicitor will always have the final word. The closing speech is your final attempt to address the court. It should integrate the evidence the court has heard with your theory of the case and present your underpinning argument. In your final speech you should rebut or explain the evidence that weakens your case and explain how the law applies. If in your opening speech you raised questions, then in your final speech you must answer them based upon the evidence that has been heard. The closing speech should be well structured, be easy to follow and sum up the major points.
In criminal matters the prosecution have the right to make an opening speech. If it is a simple case then very often the Prosecution will forgo an opening speech. If the Prosecution do decide to have an opening speech it should be kept brief. It should provide a non-contentious summary of the case. The Prosecution then proceed to present their case. After their evidence has been heard the defence have the opportunity to give an opening speech and the present their evidence. If the defence decide to make an opening speech it should start with a comment on the evidence given so far by the prosecution, then provide an outline of the evidence to come and conclude with a summary of the questions that they think need to be answered.
The closing speech is the final attempt to address the court. It needs to integrate the evidence that has been heard with your theory of the case. Both the Prosecution and the Defence have the opportunity to give a final speech. The closing speech should be short, but long enough to cover the ground and make any final impact.
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