Sample questions to ask when cross-examining witnesses at a Supreme Court trial
If you are representing yourself in a Supreme Court trial, you may have to ask the other party's witnesses questions. This is called cross-examination. There are two main purposes for cross-examination:
- to have the witness give evidence that helps you, and
- to ask the witness more questions about any evidence they've already given that you consider to be incorrect.
You ask cross-examination questions based on a theory. Using the example of Angela and James Smith as set out in our sample affidavit, below are some sample questions for Angela's cross-examination of James, based on her theory that equal parenting would be impractical because of James' work schedule. In this example, James Smith has already given his own testimony, which allows Angela the opportunity to cross-examine him.
The rules about cross-examination are more flexible than they are for direct examination. For example, in cross-examination, you can ask leading questions and challenge the other party's evidence.
Tips for cross-examination:
- You may ask leading questions — that is, give the witness the answer you are looking for in your question.
- Don't ask narrative questions — you must ask single, specific questions. An example of a narrative question would be "Tell us everything you did that day."
- Don't ask opinion-based questions — witnesses must only testify about what they personally saw, heard, or did.
The following questions are about parenting, and are based on the case of Angela and James Smith, whose case also appears in our sample affidavit.
Sample cross-examination of James Smith (respondent) by Angela Smith (claimant)
- Please state your name for the record.
- Can you please confirm that you are the respondent in the Supreme Court file #________.
- You are working as an electrician for Inland Electrical Company, is that correct?
- Your boss's name is Peter Left?
- You started working for Peter Left in October 2010?
- Is it true that Mr. Left sometimes asks you to work on Saturdays?
- Mr. Left sometimes asks you to work after 5 p.m., isn't that right?
- How often have you worked past 5 p.m. for Mr. Left in the last three months?
- How many of these times have you worked until after 6:30 p.m.?
- Is it true that you have never refused to work the overtime that Mr. Left requested?
- Is it true that you have never started work as late as 9:30 a.m.?
- Is it true that you have never finished work as early as 3:00 p.m.?
- The children attend after-school care during the weekdays when they are in your care, correct?
- They are often the last children remaining at after-school care when you arrive to pick them up, isn't that right?
- Your cousin, Gwen Smith, sometimes has to pick the children up from after school care when you are working late, is that correct?
- How often in the last two months has your cousin had to pick the children up at after-school care due to your work schedule?
- Is it true that you have never left work to take care of a sick child?
- Is it true that you have never left work to take one of the children to an appointment?
- You have dropped the children off at school late 6 times in the month of May 2015, isn't that correct?
Below are three examples of how to confront a witness about incorrect, false, or contradictory evidence.
To impeach (accuse) a witness based on an earlier inconsistent statement, you must recommit the witness by having them verify (confirm) their earlier statement before you can challenge it.
The following examples show how you can challenge the witness's earlier testimony or statement by:
- asking more questions,
- providing documents to disprove what the witness said earlier, and
- providing evidence of the witness's earlier inconsistent statement to compare it to their testimony.
Sample questions for challenging a witness's statement
- In direct examination, you stated that you only missed parenting time on two days since your separation in May 2015, correct?
- You spent three weeks in September 2015 on a business trip in the United States, is that right?
- You only saw the children for one week in September, is that right?
- You missed an entire week of parenting time in September?
Sample questions if you provide documents or other evidence to challenge a witness's statement
To use a document to confront a witness on an inconsistent statement, you must have the witness verify the document (agree that it contains what they said) before you can challenge their statement. In some cases, you may use emails or text messages.
- You testified in direct examination that the claimant never offered to give you make-up parenting time for the time you missed during your business trip in September 2015, is that true?
- Do you remember getting an email from the claimant on September 30, 2015 offering you make-up time for the week you missed while you were away?
- I am handing you an email dated September 30, 2015, sent from the claimant's email account. Can you confirm that the email address it was sent to is your email address? Is the email address it was sent from the claimant's email address you use?
- Please look at the first paragraph of the email and follow along as I read it out loud. It says "Hello, James. I am emailing to see if you would like to have the children next weekend to make up some of the time that you missed while you were away for your business trip." Do you recall receiving this email?
- This email is followed by a reply email from your email account to the claimant's email account that says, "I'm busy that weekend. I'll just see them at my regularly scheduled time," correct?
- My Lord/My Lady, I'd like to offer this document as the next exhibit.
Important: Documents must be admitted as evidence at the trial before the judge will consider them to be evidence. Once you have verified the document with the witness, you must enter it as an exhibit and pass a copy to the judge. See our fact sheet Present your evidence in Supreme Court.
Sample questions to challenge a witness's statement by pointing out their earlier inconsistent statements
Sometimes a witness may have made a statement in an affidavit or at discovery that is inconsistent (not reliable). To confront the witness about their inconsistent statement, you must first have the witness verify the statement.
- Do you remember making an affidavit on November 7, 2015?
- Is this the affidavit you swore?
- You swore it in front of Jack Sayward, a lawyer in Kelowna, correct?
- You knew when you signed the affidavit that you were swearing that the information in the affidavit was true?
- I am going to read paragraph 9 of your affidavit out loud, if you can please read along with me. It says, "I have never been charged with any offence of any kind."
- Didn't you testify in direct examination that you are currently in court proceedings because you were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol on July 15, 2015?
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