“Permission to treat the witness as hostile?” You may have heard this phrase when watching your favorite TV show, but what exactly does it mean to call a witness “hostile”? Does a hostile witness necessarily mean a bad witness for your case? Read on to find out what it means to be a hostile witness, and how you can turn the situation around even when your witness turns hostile.

What Does It Mean to Be a “Hostile” Witness?

No, it does not mean you have to start taking boxing classes. In this case, “hostile” refers to your witness providing testimony that is against your claim or party. So, even though they are technically your witness, they are not helping your case. Maybe they’re giving misleading information, or maybe they changed their mind about their version of the events. In any case, they have become supporting evidence for the opposite side.

Although some hostile witnesses can’t be anticipated, here are some strategies to avoid bringing in hostile witnesses. When preparing your case and assembling your evidence, think about everyone you can call upon to testify in your favor. For example, if you have a choice between a pedestrian who saw some of the accident and the defendant’s girlfriend who saw all of the accident, go with the pedestrian.

Just remember that people with first-hand knowledge of the events/case are going to be the best witnesses. Therefore, sometimes the only option you have is to summon a hostile witness. If that’s the case, here are some strategies you can implement to make their testimony more helpful to your case.

How to Examine a Hostile Witness

In criminal cases, it is against the rules to ask leading questions to your own witness. What this means is that it is against the rules to provide the desired answer to your question, within your question. For instance, a leading question would be “Isn’t it true that you saw the defendant stealing from the cookie jar?” Instead, you would have to ask “Who did you see stealing from the cookie jar?”

This allows for more honest testimony rather than having the witnesses simply repeat lines or go with what the lawyer is saying. However, if the witness is “hostile,” then the lawyer may ask for permission to treat them as a hostile witness. This allows them to ask the witness leading questions in order to get to the point, since it’s not an issue anymore that the witness might have been fed lines or coached to say certain things.

In a small claims case, the situation is slightly different because:

  1. No lawyers should be present unless they are one of the parties in the case.
  2. The judge usually allows for leading questions as a measure to save time.

Therefore, as a party in a small claims case, you can ask the witness as many leading questions as you want. If you know or suspect that your witness will be hostile, then prepare questions to get at the truth of the matter. This doesn’t mean you have to yell and scream at them. Rather, be prepared to hit some resistance when trying to extrapolate evidence from the witness. For more information about how to prepare your witness, click here.

The Help When You Need It

Any time that you need help with your small claims case, reach out to us via LiveChat, on the phone at 1-888-SUE-YA-88.  Most clients successfully complete their small claims paperwork without issue.

Works Cited

Bohrer, Matthew. “What Does It Mean When a Lawyer Says “permission to Treat the Witness as Hostile”?” Quora. N.p., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

“Guide to Getting Ready for Court.” Guide to Getting Ready for Court – Ministry of the Attorney General. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2016, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

“Hostile Witness Legal Definition of Hostile Witness.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.