A leading question is a question put forth in such a manner that prompts the respondent or the witness to answer in a specific manner, or as desired by the advocate. Leading questions are of a certain nature which eliminates any possibilities and adhere to certain specific situations which result in the witness answering it in a very controlled and specific manner.
For eg:- Did you see A speeding at 100 km/hr at 8 pm near the bakery? Such question eliminates any other material facts and witness is lead to think or assume the facts and answer as per it. The appropriate question to be asked would be, Did you see A speeding? At what time ?. Maybe the witness must have seen the person at 7:45 and it does make a difference during criminal cases as many things depend on the timing and place when proving facts.
Leading questions are frowned upon in the court of law and the advocates are barred from asking such questions. The leading question puts words in the mouth of the witness and the court of law is more concerned with knowing the exact and pure version of the events from the witness. Leading question leads the witness to answer in a very specific answer and also alters the witness’s version of the events. Leading questions can only be asked with the permission of the court or in some specific events. Normally leading questions results in the witness answer in more of Yes or No pattern.
Leading questions can be a form of persuasion. Such questions are more of rhetoric in nature and the answers to such questions are suggested in the question itself. The leading questions does not allow the witness to narrate their own version of the story. They are designed in such a way that they echo back what the questioner has asked. According to Merriam-Webster, leading question means-: ‘a question asked in a way that is intended to produce a desired answer’.[i]
Leading questions as per Sec 141 of Indian Evidence Act means: a question asked in a way that is intended to produce a desired answer. The leading questions are close-ended and are normally coached to give out specific answers. According to Sec 137 of the Indian Evidence Act, examination-in-chief means the examination of the witness by the party who calls such a witness[ii]. Sec 142 of the Indian Evidence Act states the advocates cannot ask any leading question to the witness called upon by the same party unless with the permission of the court. Cross-examination as per Sec 137 of the Indian Evidence Act means the examination of the witness by the adverse party or the opposing party and the Sec 143 states that leading questions can be asked during the cross-examination of the witness and only when the facts are not being proved or admitted. Sec 143 of the Indian Evidence Act states that in addition to other questions, such questions can be asked which tests the varsity of the witness, discover who he is and his position in life, etc.
In Varkey Joseph v State of Kerala[iii], the Supreme Court held that the lawyer should not question the witness in such a manner that results in the witness to answer in Yes or No format. Also such questions hampers the accused from getting a fair trial and violates the provisions of Article 21 enshrined in the Constitution of India.
In Brinda v R[iv], it was held the court that the Court can determine, whether a leading question should be permitted or not and not the counsel. Leading questions can only be asked during the cross-examination of the witness and only during examination-in-chief and re-examination after the court’s permission.
Leading questions are frowned upon amongst the legal fraternity and should be asked only when it is necessary and should not be used during other times. Leading questions are like the trick question which can be used to mislead the court and produce false testimony from the witness.
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[i] (Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leading%20question. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.v, n.d.)
[ii] (http://www.lawjournals.org/download/541/5-6-13-529.pdf, n.d.)
[iii] (https://indianlegalsolution.com/examination-of-witness-and-leading-question/, n.d.)
[iv] (https://indianlegalsolution.com/examination-of-witness-and-leading-question/, n.d.)