Court advocacy

Court advocacy

This chapter looks at the typical stages of a court hearing and the linguistic requirements of those stages.


18.1.1 General points

The aim of the examination-in-chief is to get the witness to tell the court his or her version of events. In practice the witness statement exchanged prior to the trial will often stand as the witness’s evidence-in-chief. The lawyer will then simply seek explanatory comments from the witness where necessary.

Where a witness does give evidence-in-chief in full before the court, the lawyer should take the witness through all the evidence which he or she wishes to obtain from that witness. Vital facts should not be omitted.

Leading questions are not allowed during the examination-in-chief. These are questions which contain their own answers. Often, but not always, they are questions to which the only answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, the question, ‘Did you last see him at 10.00 a.m.?’ is a leading question. It should be rephrased as, ‘When did you last see him?’

18.1.2 Guidelines for the advocate

At the beginning of the examination-in-chief, you should ask the witness to introduce himself or herself to the court by providing details of his/her name, address, and, if relevant to the case, employment details. Then you should refer the witness to the dispute being tried and to the point at which his or her evidence begins. You should then take the witness through the evidence in a logical way. It is usually best to approach the evidence in a chronological order. Then stop. Do not repeat yourself.

Generally, questions beginning with what, where, who, when, why are open questions and are the best way of obtaining information on examination-in-chief.

If you think the cross-examination is likely to reveal unhelpful information, consider whether it might be better to introduce it in evidence during your examination-in-chief.


18.2.1 General points

Examination-in-chief is followed by cross-examination. The purpose of cross-examination is to challenge the version of events given during examination-in-chief.

There is no rule that prevents the asking of leading questions in cross-examination. In fact it is best to control the witness when conducting a cross-examination. One of the best ways of doing this is to limit your questions exclusively to leading questions, or to questions to which the witness can reply only with yes or no or other one-word answers.

You may challenge a witness either on specific parts of his or her evidence, or by challenging his or her credibility more generally, for example, by demonstrating to the court that the witness is biased, or untrustworthy.

The cross-examining lawyer must put his own client’s case to the witness in cross-examination, where that witness is in a position to comment on it.

18.2.2 Guidelines for the advocate