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The prosecution's case and witnesses

The trial begins with the charges being read and explained to you. The judge will then ask if you choose to plead guilty or claim trial to the charges.

If you choose to claim trial, the prosecution will present their case first. They may begin by giving an overview of the case and what they expect to prove during the trial.

Calling the prosecution's witnesses

The prosecution will present their case first. This is done through the calling of the prosecution's witnesses to give evidence. Only one witness can give evidence at each time in the courtroom; the rest of the witnesses, including yours, must remain outside while the witness on the stand is giving evidence.

The examination of each prosecution's witness consists of 3 stages in sequence. You should listen carefully to the questions and answers which the witness gives, and take notes for your own reference.

What to expect:
  • The prosecutor will ask the witness to introduce themselves to the court with their full name, address and occupation.
  • The prosecutor will ask the witness questions about the case. The question must be open-ended for the witness to answer in their own words.
  • The prosecutor may refer to documents, photographs and other evidence when questioning the witness.
  • You may object if the prosecutor asks questions which are close-ended or which suggests an answer to the witness.
What to expect or do:
  • After the prosecutor has asked all the questions, you will have the opportunity to ask questions to challenge the evidence given by the witness.
  • You may refer to documents, photographs and other evidence to challenge the evidence given by the witness.
  • You may present your version of the events to the witness, and ask the witness if they agree or disagree with it.
  • You can request an ancillary hearing if you think that the evidence presented by the prosecution should not be admitted.
    • At the ancillary hearing, you can produce evidence to show why the prosecution or their witnesses' evidence is not safe for the court to rely on, and should not be admitted.
What to expect or do:
  • After your cross-examination of the witness, the prosecutor will have the opportunity to ask further questions to clarify the answers given by the witness during cross-examination.
  • You may object if the prosecution raises issues not brought up during cross-examination. You may also object if the prosecutor asks questions which are close-ended or which suggests an answer to the witness.

Guidelines for questioning witnesses

During the cross-examination, you may:

  • Pose questions to the prosecution's witness to challenge the prosecution's case. For example, you may wish to prove that the witness has:
    • Given untruthful, inconsistent or illogical testimonies.
    • Incorrect or insufficient knowledge about the case.
    • Given unreliable testimony.
  • Ask close-ended questions instead of open-ended questions. For instance, "You saw him clearly at the void deck that day, didn’t you?" is an example of a close-ended question instead of an open-ended question such as "What did you see at the void-deck?".
  • Show the witness any documentary evidence or photographs to challenge what the witness has said.
  • Present your version of the events to the witness and ask if they agree with it. These are known as "put questions".

    Example of a put question: "I put it to you that the person you saw at the void deck was person A, and not me. Do you agree or disagree?"

You should not:

  • Ask questions to annoy, insult or embarrass the witness.
  • Seek advice from the judge about what questions you should be asking the witness. It is your responsibility to ask the appropriate questions.

Objecting to the prosecution's evidence

You can object to certain questions or evidence given by the prosecution's witnesses. When you object, you do so by standing up and saying "I object, Your Honour", before explaining your reasons.

The prosecution will then respond to your objection, followed by the judge, who decides if the objection is sustained (allowed) or not.

Examples of the types of questions or evidence you may object to are listed below.

A leading question is one that suggests the answer to the witness. The prosecutor should not ask leading questions during the examination-in-chief of the prosecution's witnesses. If the prosecutor asks a leading question, you may stand up and object.
Example

"You saw him clearly at the void deck that day, didn’t you?" is a leading question because it hints to the witness the answer to the question.

Instead, the prosecutor should ask an open-ended question such as, "What did you see him do that day?"

As a general rule, any evidence that is not relevant to the charges or case against you are
inadmissible, and will be disregarded.
As a general rule, the prosecution cannot give evidence to show you are a person of bad character before conviction. This includes evidence of your past criminal record.

However, you may produce evidence of your good character.

Note

If you produce evidence of good character, the prosecution will be allowed to produce evidence of bad character (including past criminal records), if any, against you.

In general, oral or written statements made by a person who is not in court as a witness cannot be used as evidence. These statements are called hearsay evidence.
Example

If person A is called to court as a witness in a criminal trial, and he says, "I heard person B say that he saw person C commit the crime", this would be hearsay.

This is because person A has no personal knowledge of what person B had witnessed. Person A's statement is hearsay evidence and is inadmissible. Person B should be called to testify.

Here are some cases where the hearsay rule does not apply:

  • If the author of the statement is dead or cannot be located.
  • If the author of the statement is overseas and cannot be made to testify.
  • If the statements are contained in ordinary business documents.

You may refer to Section 32 of the Evidence Act for more exceptions to the hearsay rule.

As a general rule, witnesses should only give evidence of facts which they personally saw, heard or experienced. They should not be answering questions which require them to state their opinion or draw inferences from the facts.

Note

This does not apply to expert witnesses. An expert witness is a person with scientific, medical, technical or other specialised knowledge based on training, study or experience. Some examples of expert witnesses include doctors and engineers.

Their role is to provide independent and unbiased opinions about the case based on their specialised knowledge. If you call an expert witness, you will need to ask questions regarding their qualifications and experience as an expert in the field.

Need help?

The information here is for general guidance as the courts do not provide legal advice. If you need further help, you may want to get independent legal advice.

Find out more

2021/07/23

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