Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
During a court trial, you may have heard or seen a lawyer raising an objection. However, its purpose and use may not be commonly known to many.
This article will explain what you need to know about making objections during a trial in the Singapore courts, and what happens when such objections are made. It will cover:
What is an Objection?
An objection serves as a formal protest indicating to the judge that the opposing party’s evidence, testimony or question should not be allowed.
Why Would an Objection Need to be Made?
Before the commencement of a trial, you may submit evidence in support of your case to the Court Registry, and have them admitted on record. The evidence will then be used to justify your case in court, where the judge will then take into consideration the evidence that has been submitted when giving a judgement at the conclusion of the trial. Hence, making objections is important in preventing evidence that may potentially harm your case from being admitted on record.
In particular, making an objection during a trial goes towards ensuring that:
- Improper evidence is not admitted; and/or
- The witnesses are not asked inappropriate questions by the lawyers of either party during the trial.
This, in turn, allows parties to a trial to introduce valid and important evidence or testimony that best supports their case.
Who Can Make Objections in Court?
Lawyers typically make most of the objections in court. However, if you are a litigant-in-person (i.e. you are representing yourself without a lawyer in a trial), you are also permitted to make objections in court.
How is an Objection Made in Court?
When making an objection in court, it is not sufficient to simply state “objection”. You should also be prepared to explain the ground(s) for making the objection (see below).
The most common way of making an objection is by standing up and saying “I object, Your Honour” before explaining the relevant ground(s) for making the objection.
What are the Grounds For Making an Objection?
You may make an objection if a piece of evidence or a witness’ testimony has nothing to do with the case or it is not important in determining who should win the case.
Example: Asking how many sexual partners someone has had would not be relevant in an application for a personal protection order.
2) Leading questions
When a question posed by the opposing party is designed to lead to a certain answer – that would be a leading question to which you may make an objection.
If an objection has been made to a leading question by the opposing lawyer, it cannot be asked in an examination-in-chief or in a re-examination without the court’s permission. However, leading questions may be asked during cross-examination if it has satisfied the following:
- The question must not put into the mouth of the witness the same words which he/she would have to repeat back again; and
- The question must not assume that unproven facts have already been proven.
Example: “The person you saw leaving the scene of the crime was wearing a blue shirt, correct?” is a leading question as it assumes the colour of the person’s shirt, and the witness would have to respond with either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. On the other hand, a non-leading question would be “What was the colour of the shirt that the person you saw leaving the scene of the crime was wearing?”
3) Character evidence
Character evidence refers to evidence of an individual’s personality traits, tendencies, or moral standing. An objection may be made to such evidence or testimony on the basis of character because it might invite the court to judge that individual based on their reputation, rather than on the facts established during a trial. This would therefore be unfair and potentially prejudicial against that individual.
Example: In a criminal trial involving a case of assault, the prosecution wants to present testimony that the defendant is known as a violent person amongst the defendant’s circle of friends. This testimony can be objected to because it does not prove that the defendant actually acted violently when the alleged assault had occurred.
4) Hearsay evidence
This refers to testimony that is given or evidence that is produced based on what was heard by a party not involved in the trial. The most common testimony that is likely to be objected to on the grounds of it being hearsay evidence would be where the witness begins the testimony with “He said” or “She said”.
For example, if the witness testifies – “He said that he saw Person Y leaving the scene of the crime” – you may object on the grounds of this being hearsay evidence.
However, there are some exceptions where the rule against admitting hearsay evidence would not apply:
- If the author of the statement is dead or cannot be located
- If the author of the statement is overseas and cannot be made to testify; or
- If the statements are contained in ordinary business documents
In these situations, the evidence may still be admitted by the courts.
You may refer to our other article for a detailed discussion on hearsay evidence.
If a witness gives testimony that is technical in nature and not based on any facts that the witness has first-hand knowledge of, then an objection may be based on that testimony being their opinion. Generally, only a witness who has been recognised as an expert witness by the courts can offer an opinion.
Unless a testimony or evidence is produced based on a professional expert (i.e. Someone who may possess first-hand knowledge of the technical evidence), you may be able to object to that testimony or evidence based on it being their opinion. Examples of technical evidence may include possessing specialised industry knowledge to ascertain the market value of a condominium.
Example: Testifying that someone is crazy or has a mental disorder even though you are not a qualified medical practitioner who can make such a diagnosis.
When Can I Make an Objection in Court?
An objection can be made at the following points of a trial:
- When a witness is testifying;
- During or after a question is asked by the opposing lawyer during cross-examination;
- While the witness answers the question or after the answer is given; and
- When documentary or physical evidence is being adduced.
What Happens After an Objection is Made?
After an objection has been made, the other party may choose to respond to the objection. They may also refute the objection by providing their reasons for doing so.
The judge will then consider and decide if the objection should be:
- Sustained: This means that the judge allows the objection. The other party’s evidence or witness’ testimony will not be admitted as part of the case. The objection will also be reflected on the court’s record; or
- Overruled: This means that the objection is rejected by the judge. The other party’s evidence or witness’ testimony will be admitted as part of the case.
Objection overruled during cross-examination
When an objection is made during cross-examination (i.e. when the opposing lawyer poses questions to you or a witness), and the objection is overruled, the questions posed by the opposing party will be allowed by the judge. The cross-examination may be permitted to continue after the objection has been overruled. Do note that cross-examination occurs after the examination-in-chief (i.e. you or a witness are given the opportunity to give your testimony/evidence or version of the events pertaining to the case at hand).
Objection overruled when adducing evidence
Adducing evidence allows lawyers to submit evidence before the court that they think may be relevant in supporting their case. Where an objection is made when the opposing party seeks to tender evidence before the court and the objection is overruled, that evidence will be deemed to be admissible by the courts.
Courtroom objections are an important part of the trial process. Making an objection can ensure that improper evidence is not introduced or witnesses are not asked inappropriate questions. Knowing when and how to make an objection can also ensure that parties to a trial have the opportunity to introduce evidence or witness testimony that can support their case before the courts.
During the trial process, you should therefore be mindful of when you may raise an objection as well as the relevant grounds for doing so. Hence, it is recommended to seek legal advice from a lawyer if you are a party to a civil or criminal case. Depending on the nature of the matter, a civil or criminal lawyer can help ensure that you are properly represented and present your best case possible in court.
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