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If you're in Supreme Court for a trial and you have a lawyer, your lawyer will usually call you as a witness in your own case.
They'll ask you questions that they think will:
- help your case, and
- get your sworn evidence heard by the court.
When your own lawyer questions you, it's called direct examination.
If you're representing yourself (that is, if you don't have a lawyer), you can:
- testify (speak) on your own behalf, or
- ask if you can give your evidence in an affidavit.
The judge might also ask you some questions, whether you have a lawyer or you're representing yourself.
After you testify, the other person in your case (the law calls them the other party) or their lawyer can cross-examine you (ask you their own questions). They'll ask you questions that they think will get you to say something that helps their case more than it helps yours.
If you don't have a lawyer, you can also question your own witnesses. This is called direct examination (just like when your own lawyer questions you, if you have one).
The other person or their lawyer will then cross-examine your witnesses.
What's a third-party witness?
A third-party witness is anyone other than you or the other person involved in your case. On this page we call them simply the witnesses.
If you call a witness, you'll question them in a direct examination. If they're not an expert witness, start by asking questions that show how they know you and the other person involved in your case.
After you've asked your questions, the other person or their lawyer can cross-examine them.
How do you do a direct examination?
The rules for doing a direct examination are quite strict. Here are some helpful tips:
- Ask questions that start with:
- Could you please describe?
- Ask single, specific questions. For example:
- Where were you at 10 am that day?
- Don’t ask leading questions. In leading questions, you give the witness the answer you're looking for in your question (for example, don't ask things like "You forgot to pick up the children from after-school care on April 25, didn't you?"; ask "Did you pick the children up from after-school care that day?").
- Don't ask a lot of narrative questions. In narrative questions, you're asking a vague question that doesn't have a single answer. Instead, be precise (for example, don't ask things like "Could you tell us everything you did that day?"; ask "Did you pick the children up from after-school care that day?").
- Don't ask questions that are really about opinions (for example, don't ask things like "Do you think he was wrong to forget the children?"). The witness can only tell you what they saw, heard, or did.
Sample questions for a direct examination
TV shows and movies usually make direct examination look exciting and dramatic. It's not normally like that in real life. And it's always a good idea to stay calm.
Look at our sample affidavit. It has details about a case between a couple called James and Angela Smith who separated and are in court to sort out some parenting issues. (They're not real people.)
Imagine that they have a witness called John who's being asked questions by Angela.
Here are some questions that Angela could ask John for her direct examination of him. Look at how she uses quite formal language. She doesn't speak the way she would with friends or family.
- Please state your name for the record.
- How do you know the claimant/respondent?
- Are you employed?
- How long have you been employed at Meadowlark Elementary School?
- Do you teach Judy or Jason Smith?
- How long have you taught Judy Smith?
- Is Judy Smith on time for school?
- Has Judy Smith been late for school this year?
- Has Judy Smith missed school this year?
- How many times?
- Can you tell me the dates on which Judy Smith was late or absent?
- What happened in the classroom on the date of May 31, 2015?
- Do you remember who dropped Judy Smith off on May 31, 2015?
- Please describe Judy’s condition when her father dropped her off at school.
- Can you describe Judy’s behaviour on May 31, 2015?
- After Judy began crying, then what happened?
- Please tell us what was said in the conversation you had with Judy Smith.
- How did John Smith act when you called to tell him Judy was sick?
- What time was it when James Smith picked Judy up?
- On what date did you have a parent-teacher meeting with the parties?
- Did you raise any concerns about Judy with the parties?
- How did James Smith respond?
- Has Judy’s academic performance changed this year?
- How has it changed?
How do you introduce documents as evidence by examining a witness?
You can also use documents as evidence when you're examining a witness.
But you can only introduce documents you shared with the other person in the discovery process.
After you've introduced the document by asking the witness questions about it:
- ask the clerk to enter it as an exhibit, and
- give a copy to the clerk, who will give it to the judge.
If the other party doesn't object, it will be entered as an exhibit
Sample questions for introducing a document as evidence
Here's an example of how to introduce a document as evidence. It's still based on Angela questioning John, who's a teacher at her children's school. Angela's asking the questions and John's answering them:
Question: Do either of the Smiths' children have any special learning needs?
Answer: Yes, Jason has some challenges.
Question: What are those challenges?
Answer: Jason struggles with math and has dyslexia.
Question: How do you know this?
Answer: He was assessed by the school. I was his teacher at the time and was involved in the assessment.
Question: I am handing you a copy of an assessment from the school dated October 5, 2012 for Jason. Is this the assessment you are referring to?
Question: My Lord/My Lady, I’d like to offer this document as the next exhibit.