Skip Navigation

White Book Updating Service





1. The overriding objective requires that, in order to deal with a case justly, the court should ensure, so far as practicable, that the parties are on an equal footing and can participate fully in proceedings, and that parties and witnesses can give their best evidence. The parties are required to help the court to further the overriding objective at all stages of civil proceedings.

2. Vulnerability of a party or witness may impede participation and also diminish the quality of evidence. The court should take all proportionate measures to address these issues in every case.

3. A person should be considered as vulnerable when a factor – which could be personal or situational, permanent or temporary – may adversely affect their participation in proceedings or the giving of evidence.

4. Factors which may cause vulnerability in a party or witness include (but are not limited to)—

(a) Age, immaturity or lack of understanding;

(b) Communication or language difficulties (including literacy);

(c) Physical disability or impairment, or health condition;

(d) Mental health condition or significant impairment of any aspect of their intelligence or social functioning (including learning difficulties);

(e) The impact on them of the subject matter of, or facts relevant to, the case (an example being having witnessed a traumatic event relating to the case);

(f) Their relationship with a party or witness (examples being sexual assault, domestic abuse or intimidation (actual or perceived));

(g) Social, domestic or cultural circumstances.

5. When considering whether a factor may adversely affect the ability of a party or witness to participate in proceedings and/or give evidence, the court should consider their ability to—

(a) understand the proceedings and their role in them;

(b) express themselves throughout the proceedings;

(c) Physical disability or impairment, or health condition;

(d) respond to or comply with any request of the court, or do so in a timely manner;

(e) instruct their representative/s (if any) before, during and after the hearing; and

(f) attend any hearing.

6. The court, with the assistance of the parties, should try to identify vulnerability of parties or witnesses at the earliest possible stage of proceedings and to consider whether a party’s participation in the proceedings, or the quality of evidence given by a party or witness, is likely to be diminished by reason of vulnerability and, if so, whether it is necessary to make directions as a result.

7. If the court decides that a party’s or witness’s ability to participate fully and/or give best evidence is likely to be diminished by reason of vulnerability, the court may identify the nature of the vulnerability in an order and may order appropriate provisions to be made to further the overriding objective. This may include concealing the address and/or contact details of either party or a witness for appropriate reasons.

8. Subject to the nature of any vulnerability having been identified and appropriate provisions having been made, the court should consider ordering ground rules before a vulnerable person is to give evidence, to determine what directions are necessary in relation to—

(a) the nature and extent of that evidence;

(b) the conduct of the advocates and/or the parties in respect of the evidence of that person;

(c) whether one or more special measures and/or any other support should be put in place for that person;

(d) any duty or power of the court under any enactment or its inherent jurisdiction to prohibit, limit or modify cross-examination of or by a vulnerable witness or to appoint a legal representative to conduct a cross-examination.

9. Before ordering any ground rules, special measures or other support, the court must consider views expressed by a party or witness about participating in the proceedings or giving evidence

Back to top of page

Special Measures

10. Special measures may include, but are not limited to:

(a) preventing a party or witness from seeing another party or witness by the use of screens;

(b) allowing a party or witness to give evidence remotely by video conference;

(c) hearing a party or witness’s evidence in private;

(d) dispensing with the wearing of wigs and gowns;

(e) admitting pre-recorded video evidence;

(f) questioning a party or witness through an intermediary; and

(g) using a device or other aid to help a party or witness communicate.


1. The court office opening hours are published for each court in the ‘Court Finder’ section of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service website. Return to footnote 1
Back to top of page

Back to Previous Page