Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Never Ask A Witness A Question That You Do Not Know The Answer To

I went off to the Youth Court in the afternoon for a trial over possession of a bladed article. My Client's instructions had always been slightly fluid and it did not help that he kept changing the witnesses that he claimed would corroborate his case.

I had previously warned the Client that the chances of success in his trial were reduced if he had no witnesses to corroborate his account. The Client turned up to Court with two witnesses. I was placed in the position whether to call the witnesses without having time to proof them and go through their evidence in detail, or simply call the Defendant and ignore the fact that his witnesses could assist his case. A request to adjourn the case was refused and a request for further time to prepare was refused - and rightly so as the Client had been given ample opportunity to bring his witnesses to me so I could proof them. The Client opted to run the case by the seat of his pants and after 5 minutes with each witness the Client told me that he wanted both witnesses called even though I could not be sure that their accounts were supportive of his in every detail.

Things went horribly wrong in Court as the Client gave an account, the first witness gave an account that was different over minor details, the second witness gave an account that differed from both the Client and the first witness. I even resorted to asking questions that could only be answered with yes or no to try to keep the witnesses from deviating from the Client's account. At one point I was warned about my leading questions by the District Judge. I had trouble in controlling the witnesses simply because I only had a vague idea what they were going to say. There is a golden rule in trials: "Never ask a witness a question that you do not know the answer to". Unfortunately I was put in a position where my Client had provided express instructions for me to break the golden rule!

My Client was convicted because the District Judge did not believe his evidence and in giving his reasons to the Court he called my Client a liar and the witnesses liars. He was probably right.

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