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Legal Information

At the Hearing

How do I question a witness?

You can start questioning your witnesses, one at a time, by asking them their name and asking them some background information, like how they know the parties in the case. You will then have to get into asking questions about the event they witnessed or any other issue they are there to testify about. It is best if you can prepare with your witnesses beforehand so you know what they will testify about. This will also help you decide what questions you need to ask for them to relay that information to the judge.

When you question your own witnesses, this is called direct examination. On direct examination, you will usually only be allowed to ask open-ended questions that do not lead your witnesses in a certain way or influence their answers. “Leading questions,” where you suggest the answer to the question, are not allowed.

Here are some good and bad examples of direct examination questions:

Open-ended (okay to ask)

Leading (not okay to ask)

“What color is the sky?”

“The sky is blue, isn’t it?”

“Could you please tell the court what you saw on January 15th, 2018?”

“You saw the respondent abuse me on January 15th, 2018, didn’t you?”

For each new topic that you question your witness about, you will need to establish how the witness knows the answer. For example, let’s say you want to ask the question:

“Could you please tell the court what you saw on January 15th, 2018 at noon?”

You must first ask questions that help establish how the witness knows that anything happened at all on January 15th, which is known as “laying a foundation.” This could include questions such as:

  • Where were you on January 15th, 2018?
  • Who was with you on January 15th, 2018?
  • Do you remember what happened that day at noon?

And then, after you laid this “foundation,” you can ask the important question: Could you please tell the court what you saw on January 15th, 2018 at noon?

After you have finished asking your witnesses questions, the other side will have a chance to ask them questions, which is called cross-examination.

Note: When your witnesses are testifying, your witnesses can only testify as to events that they have personal knowledge of. They are not allowed to testify about things they have heard secondhand, this is called hearsay.