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Examining A Witness - What Can You Ask?

Examining A Witness - What Can You Ask?



A witness is someone who has relevant information about a crime.

Witnesses play a very important role in criminal cases. They help to establish the facts about what happened by telling the court what they know about an event.

Witnesses must make an oath or solemnly state (an 'affirmation') that they will tell the truth in court. 

Some of the terms you will hear in this topic include:

  • Examination in Chief
  • Cross-Examination
  • Leading Questions
  • Hearsay



Examination in Chief

Questioning of the witness by the barrister who called that witness (whether it be a prosectution or defence barrister).

Cross Examination

Questioning of the witness by barristers who did not call the witness (whether it be a prosectution or defence barrister).

Leading Questions

When examinig a witness, you can't ask leading questions - which are questions that suggest the answer.  It prompts the witness to answer in a particular way.

For example - "You were with Eoin, weren't you?"

"You ignored the speed limit, didn't you?"

Non-leading question should be used:

"Who were you with?"

"Were you aware of the speed limit?"


For the most part a witness can only talk about the things he/she saw or heard.  He/she cannot talk about things other people told them they saw or heard.  This is called 'hearsay'.  It must be "I saw Mary crossing the road" - not "John told me Mary crossed the road"

There is an exception to a type of witness who can give hearsay evidence and express opinions - see the next slide.

Expert Witnesses

This is a person who, because of his/her expertise in a particular field, can testify about more than what they have seen or heard. They can tell the court what conclusions they have reached as a result of certain facts and they can give their opinion about the facts. Only expert witnesses can give evidence about their opinions. For example, a pathologist would be considered an expert in what different autopsy results mean; a gun expert could speculate about what kind of gun might have been used based on physical evidence presented by someone else.


When you have completed the module, try the quiz:

Take the quiz on Examining A Witness here