Monday, 12 September 2011

LTW Readers Q&A (55): Witnesses

A question from Paul about witnesses in a protest hearing;

I’ve got a question on what witnesses are appropriate to use in a protest hearing. This involves junior sailors in an optimist regatta.

Recently two 13 year old kids had a protest hearing and one of the sailors was allowed to use their coach as a witness. Is this fair as the coach will most likely be very biased to their sailor?

We were also just at CORK and at that regatta the jury would not even let a fellow sailor who sailed from the same club be a witness.
Who should the jury allow to be a witness in a protest? Can a parent be a witness?

Thanks for your feedback. I’ve also just subscribed to your blog. It looks very helpful.
Thanks, Paul

Anyone can be a witness

To begin with: a party in a hearing must decide if to bring a witness or who, NOT the protest committee!
If you read recommendations to protest hearings in Appendix  M it says:

Allow anyone, including a boat’s crew, to give evidence. It is the party who normally decides which witnesses to call, although the protest committee may also call witnesses (rule 63.6). The question asked by a party ‘Would you like to hear N?’ is best answered by ‘It is your choice.’
So a parent can be witness, a coach, a fellow club-member, anyone.

Weighing the evidence

It is however up to the protest committee to 'weigh' the testimony and evidence that a particular witness is providing. They might give less credit to a parent, or that coach or that fellow club-member. Simply because they are perceived as having an interest in the outcome of the hearing.

Also; if you bring six witnesses who all say the same, you might end up antagonizing the committee more than you want. It's still up to you, but a chairman might ask: "Is this new witness going to tell us something other than we already know?" Regard that as a hint to stop bringing in the seventh.

Witnesses are asked about what they saw and heard. They must tell there story in presence of both parties. It is prudent to talk to your witness before you ask him to testify. Be sure he can provide relevant information. If not, don't bring the witness at all. If he tells a story opposite to what you just explained to the panel, it will do more harm than help you.

Questions and position

And, prepare some questions about issues you want the PC to hear, to asks that witness. Make them open questions - not leading (i.e. questions that can only be answered by yes or no). Ask for instance: "When was the overlap first established between boat Y and boat X" If the answer is five or six boat lengths from the mark, you can use that to draw the attention to 18.2(d) and decide any doubt about the overlap at the zone in your favor.

Make sure the witness was in a position to actually see what happened. And the opposite: always ask your opponent's witness where he/she was at the time of the incident.

Thanks for subscribing,


  1. parent, a coach, a fellow club-member plus owener, crew, employer and employee, anyone

  2. Jos

    That is a great summary.

    The only thing I would comment on is that leading questions aren't necessary questions that can be answered "yes" or "no". It would be more accurate to describe a leading question as a question that indicates what the answer should be. A question that leads the witness to answer in a certain way.

    Some questions can be answered "yes" or "no" which aren't leading - for instance "When you were near the top mark did you see anything?"

    There are also questions that are leading that can't be answered yes or no - for instance "Can you tell us about boat X hitting your boat Y?" when it hadn't been first established that there was contact.

  3. @ Sen & John G
    Thanks for the additions.
    As to leading questions, there's a point when the party is unable to formulate non-leading questions, that I give up trying to correct him/her. Some people have trouble formulating open questions, because in their mind only one sequence can have happened.
    I leave it be and weigh the answers accordingly.


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