Joy Merriam gives her best practice tips on how to maximise the effectiveness of closing addresses to judge and jury.
Although closing submissions to a judge and a speech to a jury may be different in content and tone, there are many similarities in both preparing for them and delivering them. In preparing your case and identifying your case theme, you should always consider what you wish to achieve during the trial and this will inform the thrust of your closing statements.
Long, waffling repetitions of points you think you have successfully achieved in cross-examination only sound self-congratulatory and do not impress.
When identifying your case theme, think of a memorable phrase you would wish to include in that address, for example, ‘he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time’ or ‘look at the many positives in relation to this parent - has she/he been adequately assessed?’
I always have a separate page in my notebook for points in my final speech and, throughout the trial, if a point is made in evidence on which I hope to rely, then I not only highlight it in my notes of the evidence but also place it in a bullet point on my page of notes.
When preparing your closing address, have regard to these points, but always ensure that your speech/submission has form and direction. Many judges require only bullet-point written submissions, and bullet points are useful in formulating the form, shape and content of the verbal address.
Keep it short and make sure it has impact. Long, waffling repetitions of points you think you have successfully achieved in cross-examination only sound self-congratulatory and do not impress. Regurgitations of chunks of the evidence will not hold the interest of either judge or jury. Ensure your theme is clear and illustrated by selected evidential points and by case law in the case of a submission.
Always finish on one of your strongest points and, in a jury trial, ‘show them the way home’ by reminding them that if they are not completely sure that the prosecution case is right, then the correct verdict is one of not guilty. In a submission to a judge, a clear reference to an authority that supports your case may make the judge anxious about an appeal!
Above all, whether addressing a judge or a jury, look them square in the eye and speak with conviction - say it like you mean it!
About the author
Joy Merriam is a solicitor advocate at GWBHarthills LLP.