Cross-examination - Criminal trials

One purpose of cross-examination is to give you the chance to challenge and test the prosecution witness's evidence.

It is also used to give each prosecution witness a chance to respond to what you will say happened.

  • Write down everything each prosecution witness says that you don’t agree with.
  • If you (or one of your witnesses) will be saying something different when it is your turn to give evidence, you must put your version of events to the prosecution witness.
  • The prosecution witness doesn’t have to agree with you, but they must be given a chance to respond.

How to cross-examine a witness

In cross-examination, you need to:

  • Ask questions, rather than making statements.
  • Keep your questions short and to the point.
  • Try and ask questions that have a 'yes or no' answer. For example, 'It was dark, wasn’t it?'
  • You must put your version of events to the prosecution witnesses. 
  • Make sure you don’t argue with or insult the witness.
Example of cross-examination

The police have charged you with common assault. The complainant (the prosecution witness) alleges that you pushed and kicked them. Your evidence will be that the complainant pushed you three times and then you then pushed them once in self-defence. You might cross-examine the complainant as follows:

You: You said that I pushed you, didn’t you?
Complainant: Yes.

You: And you also said that I kicked you, didn’t you?
Complainant: Yes.

You: But it is not true that I kicked you, is it?
Complainant: No, it is true.

You: In fact, I only pushed you once, did I not?
Complainant: No, you also kicked me.

You: And before I pushed you, you pushed me, didn’t you?
Complainant: No, I never pushed you.

You: In fact, you pushed me three times, did you not?
Complainant: No.

You: And it is only after you pushed me three times, that I pushed you back, correct?
Complainant: No.

You have now put your version of events to the witness (here the complainant) and have given them a chance to respond.

The complainant does not have to agree with your version. It does not matter whether you convince them to agree with you or not; you just have to give them a chance to respond to what you and your witnesses at trial will say happened.


Useful documents

Magistrates Court of WA


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