Warning: I’m kicking off with a grumble and then giving the positive advice later on, in the third paragraph. This morning, that is how I feel. In recent days I’ve been involved in collecting witness statements for Occupy London. Despite having published guidance on the correct format for witness statements, many people have gone ahead and done their own thing with the result that some time has been wasted chasing them up to do it properly. This would have been less of a problem if they had got them to us in good time but leaving everything to the last moment is a constant feature of lay litigants.
The problem has become acute because the absolute final deadline for getting statements in is Monday. Realistically, if we don’t get to see them either today or tomorrow, there isn’t much we can do with them because we need to digest them first and work out which witnesses we need to use – each witness will give evidence on a particular legal issue. The point about being a witness isn’t just to join in with a general free for all where as many people as possible can be heard. That’s how politics works, not law.
The most obvious and time consuming problem with the witness statements which we are now being sent by email is that they do not have a signature on them. Clearly people do not know how to manage this. Typing your name and calling that an ‘electronic signature’ simply will not do. Here’s some basic instructions which anyone with a computer and access to the internet can follow.
- Create an account with Google
- Upload your properly formatted witness statement into Google Documents
- Scan or photograph your signature
- If you can, clean up your signature in a graphics program. I use GIMP, which is free. This means selecting all the white space, deleting it and then resaving the image as a PNG file with a transparent background. This is because any photograph or scan will inevitably show the white space as dirty. Save the file so that its 100% size is the size you want it to be. This prevents you from having to fiddle around resizing it.
- Go back to your uploaded statement and put your cursor where you want the signature to go. Choose the Insert tab in Google Documents and select the option for Image. Follow the options for uploading the image you have made of your cleaned up signature.
- Select the File tab, select Download As and then select PDF. This converts your signed statement to a Portable Document Format file, which means that your signature cannot so easily be ‘stolen’.
- Email us your statement as a PDF file.
I probably should have given this advice before. Guess I thought it was obvious. Obviously it isn’t. Anything on any computer screen can be copied and this includes your signature but the point of this is that you will have signed a piece of paper with the intention of attaching it to your statement, attached it to your statement and then fused the statement so it cannot be edited. This means that the statement can be printed and distributed as appropriate with the risk that anyone can allege that the signature has been mucked around with.