10.9 Questioning Witnesses


To get an idea of question to ask in direct examination take a look at Sample Questions on the Family Law in BC

After you have presented your opening statement you will be asked to call your witnesses. The other side will also be calling witnesses. You will need to question your witnesses and will be given the opportunity to question the other party’s witnesses. Before your trial you will want to think about questions to ask the witnesses. There are 2 ways to question witnesses:

  1. Direct Examination, and
  2. Cross Examination.


Direct Examination

You will need to question the witnesses you call. This type of questioning is called direct examination. For a direct examination you will need to ask open questions (questions that allow for explanations.) Open questions usually begin with words like who, what, why, where, how, tell me about, or describe.  The opposite of an open question is a leading question. Leading questions as the name indicates leads the answerer to a particular answer. They are usually answered with a yes or no. Leading questions allow you to control what the witness talks about and often helps you get the witness to give a specific answer. This is why you are not allowed to ask your own witnesses leading questions.

Here are some examples to show you the difference:

Open Question:  - Describe the current parenting arrangements?
Leading Question – Nancy lives with you Monday to Friday correct?

Open Question: What happened Sunday February the 12th last year during Nancy’s drop off?
Leading Question: You were an hour and a half late dropping Nancy off February 12th 2015 weren’t you?

Dos and Don’ts of direct examination

The Dos

The Don’ts

  • Start by asking background questions (What is your name?  How do you know the parties? etc.)
  •  Let the witness finish answering before you ask the next question (don’t interrupt)
  • Keep your questions simple and clear
  • Organize your questions according to chronology or issue (e.g. questions about debts then questions about child care…etc.)
  • Be precise with questions
  • Asking leading questions: Questions with answers in them.
  • Ask long questions.
  • Ask complex or confusing questions
  • Asking 2 questions are the same time (it will be unclear which one the witness is answering)
  • Being too broad – Don’t ask something like “what has happened in your relationship with your former spouse”
  • Asking them to give their opinions – unless they are an expert witness

Judge’s Tip:

You can only ask a witness questions. You cannot insult or argue with them. 

Once you’ve finished examining your witness the other party will be allowed to cross examine them. 



The other party will also be calling witnesses, once they have questioned them it is your turn. Asking questions of the other parties witness is called cross-examination. You are allowed to ask leading questions.

There are 2 reasons to cross –examine a witness:

  1. To get evidence that supports your case. You’ll want to get the witness to agree to facts you present.
  2. To discredit the witness. This approach is used so the judge will minimize or disregard evidence or comments that do not support your case. You can do this by bringing into question their memory or their truthfulness. Show that they may be biased or that they are inconsistent with their story.

Dos and Don’ts of cross examination

The Dos

The Don’ts

  • Ask leading questions
  • In your questioning, move from general to specific.
  • Be clear and brief. Use simple language
  • Listen to the answers given and note important ones
  • Treat the witness with respect
  • Ask only one question at a time.
  • Be precise with questions
  • Ask questions that discredit their testimony
  • Argue with the witness.
  • Repeat a question asked during direct examination that hurt your case.
  • Ask them to give their opinions – unless they are an expert witness
  • Comment about their answer, you can do this during your closing statement