Examination of Witnesses


Examination in chief

This is the questioning of a witness by a party who calls him/her as a witness. It is also known as direct examination. The goal is to present the testimony of the witnesses in an understandable and persuasive manner. This requires a clear, logically organized presentation in which each witness describes the activities he/she observed or participated in.

The prosecutor should concentrate on presenting enough evidence to make out a prima facie case. He should also focus on making that evidence persuasive and rememberable. For effectiveness, the witness should dominate the conversation. The witness should therefore be well prepared in advance to give a complete and descriptive testimony.

Rules for Conducting Examination in Chief


  1. Give evidence from facts within a witness’ knowledge and recollection.
  2. Give relevant facts.
  3. Use piggy-back questions which are questions that incorporate information from the previous answer.
  4. Elicit sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case.
  5. Elicit corroborating evidence.
  6. Elicit background information on the witness that makes his/her evidence more credible.
  7. Elicit evidence that is necessary to lay a foundation of other evidence.

Do not:

  1. Include inadmissible evidence.
  2. Include false and perjured evidence.
  3. Argue the law.
  4. Ask leading questions.

Cross examination

This is the process for testing the veracity and accuracy of the testimony of a witness. Its purpose is to ascertain the credibility of a witness before the court. You can use cross-examination to bring out contradictions and improbabilities in their earlier testimony. Further, you can use it in leading the witness to make admissions that weaken their testimony.

Rules on Conducting Cross Examination
  1. Consider whether to cross-examine at all – there is no need to cross examine where the witness did not damage the case in any way and cannot testify to additional facts that would help the case.
  2. Keep it short and simple – ensure that you only include one fact per question.
  3. Ask leading questions – cross examination is not the time to discover new facts. You should therefore only ask questions whose answer you already know. You do not want any surprises that may destroy your case. The answers to questions you ask must aid your case, otherwise, do not ask the question.
  4. Use witness statements if available – if the accused person and his witnesses made any prior written statements, rely on these as long as the answers you will get are favourable to your case.
  5. Listen to the answers – listening to the answers can enable you impeach a witness with prior inconsistent testimony. Also, if you fail to listen to the answers, you will mis the favourable testimony you are seeking and miss the opportunity to end the cross examination on a strong point.
  6. Do not argue with the witness – avoid arguing with the witness. Arguing with a witness will give him/her an opportunity to explain the inconsistency. Save all arguments for your closing statement.


Once a witness has been cross examined, you may re-examine them. The purpose of re-examination is to rehabilitate the witness from any damaging evidence brought out during cross examination, to explain any ambiguous or misleading information elicited and to give the witness an opportunity to explain matters raised during cross examination where he/she was not given an opportunity to explain.

Rules on Conducting Re-Examination
  1. Consider whether it is necessary to re-examine as further questioning of a witness who has contradicted himself in cross examination may further damage your case.
  2. Limit your questions to only those matters raised during cross examination.
  3. Do not ask leading questions.

Author: DidiWamukoya

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