General Rules for the Examination of Witnesses

The most difficult skill of the lawyer is the art of questioning witnesses, especially those who appeared in court at the request of the opposing party. Often, the outcome of a case depends on the examination of witnesses. Moreover, in some cases, in the absence of any evidence, the correct questioning of the opponent’s witnesses can confirm your position, which you could not count on if they simply did not appear in court. For this reason, it is extremely important to learn this skill in a lawyer or solicitor course. A system of in-person and online lawyer training cannot fail to include both learning the rules and practicing this skill.

The goals of this questioning are to be able to put in the most favorable light for the interests of your client those data that consist in the testimony of witnesses of the opposing party, to supplement them, if possible, to clarify the circumstances that your opponent has not touched, and to lay the grounds for refuting this testimony, when necessary.

So, the general rules for questioning witnesses are as follows:

  1. Only necessary questions. When you consider how few facts there are in most of the cases before you, you cannot help but be surprised at how few questions are needed to establish those facts.

If in doubt as to what to ask an opposing witness, do not ask at all. Never take unnecessary risks; and remember that it is only in a hopeless position that you can take any risks at all.

The advantage of learning this skill while studying to become a lawyer is the ability to avoid mistakes. For one who learns by practice, mistakes will be constant, while at the same time learning the rules will make mistakes random.

With experience, one becomes convinced that without theory, practice only leads to the consolidation of mistakes.

Another of the misconceptions which is that not examining the witnesses of the opposing party is an admission of their testimony must also be considered.

This statement is false, similar to the fact that whoever speaks longer is right.

So, the general rules for asking questions are:

  • Don’t ask about the obvious;
  • Don’t ask about the indifferent;
  • Don’t ask about things that might elicit unfavorable answers.
  • Witnesses should not be asked about circumstances that are self-evident or indisputably established. It is a waste of time.
  • One should not ask about circumstances indifferent. This is also a waste of time.

In addition, it is important to predict witnesses’ answers to questions, whether they are questioning their own witnesses or those of the opposing party. Avoid asking dangerous questions, and ask the right questions in a way that prevents an unfavorable answer.