Collecting Evidence | WISE Workplace

WISE is often asked why it is necessary to do a transcript of a witness interview when a statement would suffice? 

This is a perfectly valid question.

In the criminal realm, a statement is taken from a witness and an interview is conducted with an offender. An audio and visual recording is made of the interview and a transcript is made.  A statement deals with the facts of a matter and will go towards proving the “proofs” of an offence. For example, a theft has seven elements that have to be proven through statements or evidence before the burden of proof (which in this case is beyond reasonable doubt) can be satisfied. Each one of these elements can be dealt with through a statement from a witness or through forensics. The evidence is gathered, culpatory and exculpatory and presented in the form of a brief of evidence to the courts.

In a workplace investigation, an investigator has the obligation to gather evidence, culpatory and exculpatory and present it in the form of a report to a decision maker. But, in addition to gathering evidence, the investigator, if sensitive to the issues, will also act as the “ear” of management. Often, a worker, especially one in a large department or company, just wants to be heard. This is particularly important in bullying and harassment cases when aggrieved parties often want to have their grievances aired. For this reason transcripts are a better option.

Why use a transcript?

Verbal: A transcript allows a person to have their say, in their own words. A statement is an interpretation by the investigator. This is particularly important if the interviewee is difficult or distressed or has a lot to say. An investigator’s notes, in a long interview may not capture everything, including any nuances. Also, an investigator may have their head down taking copious notes and can often miss the non-verbal communication. Or they may fail to build rapport or empathy with the interviewee.

Timeliness and cost
A transcript can often be much cheaper than a statement as the audio is uploaded, transcribed and returned. A statement involves the interview, the preparation of the statement, the return to the witness for signature. The hidden cost is the investigator’s time.

The risk in taking a statement is that the witness will not sign and return it. This makes the statement in effect, worthless. On the other hand, an unsigned transcript is not a major problem as there is an audio recording of the interview. A good investigator will have the interviewee identify themselves on the recording.

Cultural issues
For many cultures, talking things out is the most appropriate way to deal with a matter. It also allows the investigator to build that rapport with the interviewee. 

In other investigations, however, a statement can be more focused than a transcript. This especially is the case with “uncomplicated” investigations – those with few allegations or involving specific incidents such as theft. But matters which are complicated, have multiple witnesses and respondents or involve emotional matters such as bullying and harassment should be dealt with by transcript.