Questioning Your Witnesses
When your own witness takes the stand to give evidence and has been sworn in, you will “examine” or ask them questions first. This is called direct examination, or examination in chief.
After your witness has given their evidence, the other party will have an opportunity to cross-examine that witness. After your direct examination, the other party will be allowed to cross-examine that witness.
Witnesses provide critical evidence at trial, but they do not take a stand and simply talk about issues in the case. It is your responsibility to structure questions for the witness to answer so that the evidence is presented to the court in a logical way.
Ask questions that allow your witnesses to tell their stories in their own words. This makes their evidence more credible. Some examples of appropriate questions are:
- What happened when you reached the intersection?
- What did the other driver say to you after the accident?
- Where were you looking?
- Why did you go there?
Generally, you cannot ask “leading” questions when you are examining your own witnesses. A leading question suggests the answer to the witness. For example, “The car was speeding, wasn’t it?” is a leading question. “How fast was the car going?” asks the same question in a way that is not leading.
Note that you can ask leading questions when you are cross-examining the other party’s witness.
There are some exceptions to the general rule that you cannot ask your own witness leading questions. The only time it is appropriate to ask your witness leading questions is when:
- The information is introductory (for example, the time, date, and location of the accident)
- People or things are being identified (for example, the name and occupation of the witness)
- The matter is not disputed (for example, ownership of the car) or
- The court gives permission to ask a leading question (for example, when your own witness is “hostile” or having difficulty answering a question. A witness is “hostile” when they are withholding evidence or not telling the truth)
You can re-examine your own witness if the cross-examination(the other party questioning your witness)raised an issue that you did not deal with in your direct examination.
The judge may give permission for you to cross-examine a witness for a second time. This may happen if the other party raised new issues with the witness on the re-examination.
Giving Evidence Yourself
If you are representing yourself in court, you will not have anyone to ask you questions when you have to give evidence (tell the court your version of the dispute). You will simply get into the witness stand and talk about the facts that you want the court to know. As you are doing this, imagine that you are asking yourself questions and give the answers in a clear and logical way.
For example, if you are telling the court what happened when you were in a car accident, present your story by “answering” imaginary questions such as:
What day was it?
What time was it?
What was the weather like?
Was it light or dark outside?
Where were you going?
Were you in a hurry?
What was your route?