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General Principle

See also: Examinations

An examination-in-chief or direct examination is where the party calling a witness to give evidence asks the witness questions to elicit evidence.

Rule Against Leading Questions

In general, counsel cannot ask leading questions on of the witness that they call.[1] Leading questions are questions that clearly seek a particular answer (eg. "you saw the accused, didn't you?") or are questions that assume a foundation not in evidence (eg. "what happened after the accused stabbed him?").[2]

The reason for not allowing leading questions include:[3]

  • bias of the witness in favour of the calling party
  • the danger that the calling party will only bring out helpful information without any balance that could come from the witnesses own version[4]
  • the possibility that the witness will merely agree with everything put to the witness by the calling party.[5]
  • a witness who is nervous, not alert, confused or otherwise easily persuaded may accept the suggestion of a leading question without reflection.[6] The leading question may "impose the questioner’s will on the witness so as to elicit inaccurate information, absent an intention to do so on the part of the counsel or witness”[7]

The importance of not leading depends on the circumstances. The rule should be flexible at the least for the sake of expediency.[8]

It is usually permissible to lead on a number of issues:

  • introductory or non-controversial matters such as name, address, position, etc.[9]
  • for the purpose of identifying persons or things[10]
  • where "necessary to direct the witness to a particular matter or field of inquiry."[11]
  • to allow one witness to contradict another regarding statements made by that other[12]
  • where the witness is declared hostile;
  • where the witness is defective based on age, education, language, mental capacity[13]
  • where it is a complicated matter, at the judge's discretion[14]

A judge has discretion to allow leading where it is in the interest of justice.[15]

Consequence of Leading Questions
The answer to a leading question is not necessaries inadmissible but will carry very little or less weight, especially on critical issues.[16]

The weight given to an answer from a leading question will depend on "how leading the question was, the subject matter and other evidence before the Court." [17] It will often be that the inappropriateness of the question, and so the weight given to the answer, will be assessed in the light of whole circumstances of the case, after subsequent testimony of the witness.[18]

Objections should not be made to leading questions unless the question is "critical" to the case.[19]

The use of leading questions will be tolerated more when for the purpose of a "controlled examination" rather than where is becomes a "cross‑examination for the purpose of discrediting or contradicting" the witness.[20]

  1. c.f. R v Bhardwaj, 2008 ABQB 504 (CanLII), per Lee J at para 45 suggests that it only goes to weight ( "There is no rule of law that the answer to a leading question must be given no weight, or that they cannot be asked.”)
  2. R v Rose 2001 CanLII 24079 (ONCA) at 9
    R v W(E.M.) (2001) 270 CCC (3d) 464 (SCC)(*no CanLII links) at para 9
    Nicolls v Kemp (1915), 171 E.R. 408 per Lord Ellenborough (“If questions are asked, to which the answer yes or no would be conclusive, they would certainly be objectionable.”)
  3. R v Rose, 2001 CanLII 24079, (2001) 153 CCC 3d 225 (ONCA)
  4. Maves v Grand Truck Railways (1913) 5 WWR 212 (ABCA)(*no CanLII links)
  5. Maves v Grant Truck Pacific Railway Co (1913) 6 Alta LR 396(*no CanLII links)
    Connor v Brant (1914) 31 OLR 274(*no CanLII links)
    Sopkina, Law of Evidence in Canada at ss.16.33
    R v Clancey, [1992] O.J. No. 3968 (Ont. Sup. Ct.)(*no CanLII links) , per Watt J. (the witness “may be too disposed to assent to the proposition of counsel, rather than upon reflection or exertion of the witness’ own and true memory”)
  6. Maves
  7. MacWilliams Canadian Criminal Evidence 4th Edition p. 18:10
  8. R v Rose, 2001 CanLII 24079 (ON CA)
  9. Maves v Grand Truck Railways, at 219 (ABCA)(*no CanLII links)
    R v Muise, 2013 NSCA 81 (CanLII) at para 23
    R v Situ, 2005 ABCA 275 (CanLII) at para 9
    Cross on Evidence 3rd ed. (London: Butterworths 1967) p. 189
    R v Rose, 2001 CanLII 24079 (ON CA) at para 9
  10. Delisle, "Evidence: Principles and Problems" (7th Ed.) at p. 414, states at common law
  11. Rose at para 9
    Muise, supra at para 23
  12. Delisle, supra
  13. Delisle, supra
  14. Delisle, supra.
  15. Reference Re R v Coffin, 1956 CanLII 94 (SCC), [1956] SCR 191, p. 22
    Muise, supra at para 23
  16. Moor v Moor [1954] 2 All ER 458 (CA) R v Williams, (1982), 66 CCC (2d) 234 (Ont. C.A.)(*no CanLII links) see p. 236 (“It is clear, however, that an answer elicited by a leading question is entitled to little, if any, weight.”)
    R v Nicholson, 1998 ABCA 290 (CanLII), (1998), 129 CCC (3d) 198 (Alta. C.A.)
  17. R v Bhardwaj, (2008), 2008 ABQB 504 (CanLII), 456 A.R. 313 (Alta. Q.B.) per Lee J at para 45
    MacWilliams Canadian Criminal Evidence 4th Edition at p. 18 - 16
  18. MacWilliams Canadian Criminal Evidence 4th Edition at p. 18 - 16 (“The weight ... given ... is thus best assessed in light of the circumstances of the case. ...subsequent testimony from the witness, whether in chief or cross-examination, may make clear that the leading question had no improper impact on the answer elicited.”)
  19. FJ. Wrottesley, Examination of Witnesses in Court, 3rd Ed. at p. 42
    Cox, "Criminal Evidence Handbook", 2nd Ed. at p. 114
  20. R v Muise, 2013 NSCA 81 (CanLII), at para 27
    R v Situ, 2005 ABCA 275 (CanLII), at para 12