Information for Witnesses
We would like to assure you that investigation of marriage nullity has no civil law effects and that you are not in danger of any civil action being taken as a result of your testimony, provided that what you say is said in good faith and believed to be true.
The Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church is being followed in this investigation in order to establish whether or not the marriage in question constitutes a “sacramental marriage” as the Roman Catholic Church defines it. You may have your own particular religious beliefs about marriage but please remember that these are not being called into question. The most common questions asked have been answered in the Q/A format given below. Should you have any further queries about any of this information or indeed further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
- How long does an interview take?
- Why have I been chosen as a witness?
- What questions will I be asked to answer?
- Who will take the evidence?
- Must I be seen alone or can someone else join me?
- Will I be required to take an oath?
- Will my name be mentioned or the Parties see my evidence?
- Once I have given my testimony will I be approached again by you?
- Am I allowed to consult the Party about anything before I am interviewed?
An interview can take approximately two hours although sometimes because of the quality of the evidence from a really knowledgeable witness, this may be extended even further. We would advise you to reserve a period of three hours altogether so that your evidence can be taken without an interruption and there is no inconvenience caused to you because of other obligations.
One or both of the Parties who are involved in the case for nullity realise that you are aware of certain facts about their life and marriage, be it as a life-long friend, a work colleague, a neighbour, or a relation. They have chosen you as a witness because they believe you are able to give an informed and unbiased account of their circumstances. They should have already contacted you to obtain your consent; if this is not the case then please contact this office straight away and we will make sure that the Party contacts you officially to ask for your agreement before we proceed any further.
Nullity cases try to establish the background, the maturity and the personality of each Party as well as how they came to meet their marriage partner and how the relationship developed towards marriage. Depending on the length of time you have known the Party you will be asked questions relating to your knowledge of them. Some questions may appear to be quite intimate, but please remember that the Party who asked you to be a witness is well aware of this fact. They believe that you will be able to answer these questions truthfully and impartially.
For witnesses in the East Anglia Diocese (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire): You will be contacted by one of our Auditors either by phone, letter or email. Sometimes it will be a clergyman but most often a lay person. They will arrange to see you either in your own home or if you feel that is inappropriate, another place will be arranged in your locality, most likely the Catholic priest’s house.
For witnesses in another Diocese: Your local Tribunal will contact you to arrange a mutually convenient appointment for you to give your evidence.
Due to the nature of the interview we regret that you are not able to have anyone else present at the time. This is to safeguard the confidentiality of both the Party you represent as well as your own freedom to express views and opinions that might not be forthcoming if someone else were present. Even when husbands and wives have both been asked to be witnesses, we arrange for this to be done separately unless there are compelling reasons for the other spouse to be present during the interview e.g. chronic ill-health or frailty.
Yes, all witnesses are asked to swear an oath that the evidence given is true and that they will respect the confidentiality of the question asked until the case is completed. Those witnesses who are of a Christian persuasion will be asked to swear on the Gospels, those of a Jewish persuasion on the Hebrew Scriptures, and who are of another or no faith will be asked to make an ‘Affirmation’ that what they have given is true.
Each Party has the right to know who has been called as a witness, so your name will be given to the other Party. If this may cause difficulty you should speak to the person who has asked you to be a witness about the advisability of proceeding. Both Parties have the right to read all the witness evidence should they so wish, when the case has been completed. If the question of a sensitive matter arises, you may request that specific comments or statements that may be potentially hurtful to either or both Parties (though true), or confidences in themselves, be omitted from the copy of your evidence that would be shown to the Parties. You will be asked at the end of the session if there are any answers you wish to remain confidential and these numbers will be noted on the signature sheet that you sign. However, although the presiding judge will take any such requests into account and will usually comply, he or she reserves the right to make the final decision concerning what may or may not be deleted from the evidence that is shown to the Parties. If there is a particularly difficult area to be disclosed that is pivotal to the case, the judge will contact you to discuss the final version of your evidence that will be shown to the parties.
N.B. In the rare event that disclosure of information pertaining to the abuse of children occurs during the interview, the auditor is bound under the terms of the Children’s Act to refer the matter to the Diocesan Child Protection Team. The matter will be treated as confidential by the team, but any disclosure of past or present abuse cannot be left unreported by members of our Tribunal staff as they have a legal obligation to pass this information on.
This is a very rare occurrence but sometimes further questions may be raised because of other evidence received. In this case you will be contacted again by the Tribunal and asked to see an auditor for further questioning. In these circumstances the interview is only to answer the new questions which have arisen and consequently it should not take too long to answer them.
No, this is not acceptable or advisable. As you might guess, any contact with the Party about the questions you will be asked could constitute ‘witness priming’ and influence your answers. You should tell the Auditor if such contact has taken place because it might well affect the strength of your testimony.