N SREENI SC AND REMY CHOO ON THE ART OF CROSS-EXAMINATION
Over breakfast, the duo shares the importance of a skilful cross-examination and how to execute one. Registrations for Insights into Cross-Examination: Factual and Expert Witnesses are open.
Our chat about cross-examination begins organically when Mr Remy Choo exclaims to Mr N Sreenivasan SC, “Your cross-examination in the trial of father Joachim Kang in 2003 was the first one that I had ever observed in the flesh!” Coincidentally, both men were tapped on by SAL to join Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy for a webinar devoted to cross-examination next month. They both readily agreed and have each prepped 15-minute presentations that delve into the dos and don’ts of cross-examination and shed light on how lawyers can elicit the evidence they require to prove their case.
During our interview, they both agree that the hallmark of a good cross-examination is eliciting only the evidence you need to prove your case. “Knowing what you need to establish through the cross-examination is important,” suggests Mr Sreeni. “It’s a bit like military warfare—why take the cities that won’t help you eventually win the battle?” Mr Choo agrees, advising practitioners to consider the context of their cases as well as their own evidentiary needs. “Preparing for my first few trials, I would get overly excited at the slightest inconsistency in a witness’ Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief,” he recalls. “But I’ve since learnt to take a step back and review the evidence in context, against the backdrop of the respective pleaded cases, and critically ask if certain lines of cross-examination will really help prove my client’s case, or are surplusage.”
Mr Sreeni does this by remembering the two “golden words” of any cross-examination: “so what?” “The judge’s patience is a limited commodity, so before you start rambling and beating around the bush, know where you need to go and get there quickly.” Patience was especially scarce when he was starting out as a young advocate in the 1980s. “Back then, judges would record proceedings in longhand and if you had long, drawn-out questions, you wouldn’t be very popular,” he quips. But the advent of Digital Transcription Systems, which record and transcribe proceedings today, hasn’t reduced the need for—and value of—succinct questioning. Says Mr Sreeni, “I’ve seen cases where questions were half a page long! Don’t do that—ask sharp, focussed questions.”
One way to know you’re on the right track is to watch how a judge reacts to your cross-examination. “You can tell a lot just by observing how engaged he or she is,” says Mr Choo. “And you have to be prepared and be adaptable. Get ready to go off-script if necessary, depending on your witnesses’ answers.” Starting with the basics is important as well, he adds. This means going back to where the material facts of the respective cases are set out: the pleadings. “Your pleadings are where your case is delineated and can start to build your lines of examination by first asking what you need to prove. For instance, that material facts that you need to prove in a case of fraudulent misrepresentation will differ significantly from what you need to prove for a case of negligent misrepresentation .”
The ingredients of a good cross-examination may seem like a tall order for young advocates, but the pair is eager to share that it’s a skill, not an innate talent. And like most skills, it can be honed through meaningful practice. Says Mr Sreeni, “You may not be able to become Mr Sant Singh, SC—who in my opinion is one of the top, if not the top, cross-examiner in Singapore—but at least you’ll be somewhat competent.”
Registrations for Insights into Cross-Examination: Factual and Expert Witnesses are open. The webinar is a two-part series, with the first helmed by Justice Coomaraswamy, Mr Sreeni and Mr Choo. The second features Judge of Appeal Steven Chong and Mr Tan Chee Meng SC, who will discuss the cross-examination of expert witnesses. Both are available at a bundle price of $148.90 (U.P. $192.60).
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CROSS-EXAMINATION
Both Mr Sreeni and Mr Choo recommend that advocates be well-versed with the grand doyen of advocacy training Irving Young’s 10 commandments of cross-examination. These are:
1. Be brief
2. Use short questions and plain words
3. Ask only leading questions
4. Don't ask if you don't know the answer
5. Listen to the witness' answers
6. Don't quarrel with the witness
7. Don't allow the witness to repeat
8. Don't allow the witness to explain
9. Don't ask one question too many
10. Save the ultimate point for closing
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