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Objection, your Honour! #Leading

By Chiara Lamacchia

In my last article, I talked about how objections used in the court of law can be an inspiring tool to use in our daily life. I focused on the “hearsay” objection as an effective approach to spot and fight misinformation.

In this article, I am going to shed light on another one: “Objection, your Honour. Leading!”.

"Leading" is a term used in the law to describe a type of question that suggests the answer or that puts words in the mouth of the witness. In fact, in the realm of courtroom proceedings, leading questions hold a significant role in shaping witness testimony. These questions, designed to suggest a particular answer or imply a certain fact, can exert a manipulative influence on witnesses.

By analysing the dynamics of leading questions, we can gain insight into how they can be used to manipulate witnesses in court and impact the outcome of a trial (and therefore to see how this can be relevant in everyday life!).

The manipulative aspect of a leading question

Leading questions are carefully crafted to guide witnesses towards a desired response, often to bolster an argument or narrative. By incorporating assumptions or introducing details, these questions can subtly influence the witness's recollection or perception of events.

The main issue with leading is manipulation: a form of social influence that aims to change someone's behaviour or attitude for the benefit of the manipulator. It involves using tactics such as deception, coercion, flattery, and guilt to control or influence another person's behaviour or decisions. In this sense, leading questions can be employed by attorneys to manipulate witness testimony in several ways:

  1. Suggesting details: By introducing specific details into the question, such as the presence of a weapon or a particular action, attorneys can lead witnesses to incorporate those details into their testimony, even if their initial recollection did not include them.

  2. Confirming assumptions: Leading questions can exploit a witness's desire to please or align with the questioner's perspective. By framing the question in a way that assumes certain facts, witnesses may feel compelled to provide the expected response, consciously or unconsciously altering their testimony.

  3. Influencing memory recall: Leading questions can influence how witnesses remember events by planting false or biased information. By repeatedly asking leading questions, attorneys can shape a witness's memory or recollection, potentially leading to inaccurate or manipulated testimony.

  4. Guiding narrative: Attorneys may use leading questions strategically to construct a narrative that aligns with their case theory. By selectively choosing questions that support their argument, they can shape the overall perception of the events for the judge and jury.

To practically illustrate the manipulation potential of leading questions in court, let's consider a couple of scenarios.

  • In a robbery trial, the prosecution asks the witness, "You saw the defendant with a gun in their hand, didn't you?". By framing the question in this manner, the witness is prompted to recall and affirm the presence of a gun, even if their initial memory did not include it. This leading question may influence the witness's subsequent testimony, potentially swaying the jury's perception of the defendant's culpability.

  • In a personal injury trial, the plaintiff is questioning their client asking, "Isn't it true that the defendant was driving recklessly when they hit you?" This would be a leading question, because it suggests the answer and puts words in the plaintiff's mouth. If the defense objects on leading grounds, the judge may sustain the objection and instruct the attorney to rephrase the question in a more neutral manner.

Leading questions can often be spotted by the way they are phrased. A leading question is typically a question that suggests or assumes the answer, and often includes a statement within the question itself. Here are a few examples of leading questions:

  • Isn't it true that…

  • You didn't see the defendant at the scene of the crime, did you?

  • You would agree that the plaintiff was being unreasonable, wouldn't you?

  • You didn't really believe the defendant, did you?

  • You saw the plaintiff with a weapon, isn't that correct?

  • You thought the defendant was acting suspicious, didn't you?

  • You were intimidated by the police officer, right?

  • You knew the defendant was guilty before the trial even began, didn't you?

  • You would agree that the plaintiff was lying, wouldn't you?

These types of questions are suggesting or assuming a particular answer and therefore leading to a particular answer.

To use a leading objection, you must first recognise that the opposing party has asked a leading question. Once you recognise a leading question, the right moment to use a leading objection is immediately after the question is asked, but before the witness has a chance to answer.

It's important to note that leading objections are most commonly used during direct examination, when a party calls their own witness to testify. Leading questions are generally not allowed during direct examination, but may be allowed during cross-examination (when the opposing party questions the witness) or when the witness is deemed to be "hostile" to the party calling them as a witness.

The leading objection

To safeguard the integrity of witness testimony and counter the manipulative effects, the first immediate tool lawyers have at their disposal is the leading objection. Attorneys can object to leading questions when they believe they are unfairly influencing witness testimony. This allows the judge to assess the objection and decide whether the question is admissible or whether it should be rephrased.

Leading questions are generally not allowed during direct examination (when a party calls their own witness to testify) because they can be seen as manipulating or coaching the witness. However, they may be allowed during cross-examination (when the opposing party questions a witness), or when a witness is deemed to be "hostile" to the party calling them as a witness. In these situations, leading questions may be used to challenge the witness's credibility or elicit important information.

It's important to note that leading objections can be nuanced and fact-specific, and the admissibility of evidence often depends on the specific circumstances of the case. If you're involved in a legal matter and have questions about leading questions or objections, it's a good idea to consult with a qualified attorney.

Beyond the Courtroom

While leading questions are predominantly associated with courtroom proceedings, awareness of their manipulative potential can be valuable in everyday life as well.

In fact, manipulation can occur in many areas of life, including personal relationships, work settings, and social situations. It can be subtle or obvious, and the manipulator may be aware or unaware of their behaviour.

By recognising the use of leading questions in various contexts, such as interviews, conversations, or debates, individuals can be more discerning and critically evaluate the information presented to them. This awareness can help mitigate the influence of leading questions and promote independent thinking.

Therefore, how can you envision a leading objection in everyday life?

We encounter many situations where leading questions or statements are used, consciously or unconsciously, to influence someone's response or perception. Let’s check some examples.

  • Suppose a parent asks their child, "Don't you think it's too late to start your homework now?". This question is leading because it suggests that it is too late to start the homework, and may influence the child's response.

  • In a job interview, an interviewer might ask a leading question like, "You wouldn't have any problem working late hours occasionally, would you?". This question suggests that working late hours is a possibility and may influence the candidate's response.

  • In a performance review, an interviewer might ask a leading question like, "You wouldn't possibly be a Director if you are always working from home, would you?". This question suggests that working from home might be a roadblock to a career advancement and may influence the employee’s s response.

Here are a few other examples of leading questions that may arise in everyday life:

  • You didn't really like that movie, did you?

  • You're not going to wear that outfit to the party, are you?

  • You’re not bother to spend our anniversary with my lovely parents, were you?

  • You wouldn't want to miss out on this great opportunity, would you?

  • You don't want to upset your boss by turning down the project, do you?

  • You don't want to be seen as lazy, do you?

These types of questions are leading because, once again, they suggest or assume a particular answer and can be used to influence or manipulate someone's opinion or decision-making. In everyday life, leading questions can be used by advertisers, salespeople, friends, or family members to try serve their own interests. It's important to be aware of these types of questions and to consider them carefully before answering. If you spot a leading question, it's often a good idea to pause and consider the question carefully, and if necessary, rephrase the question to clarify or neutralise its bias.

In fact, being aware of leading questions and practicing leading objections in your mind can have several benefits in everyday life.

  1. Avoiding manipulation: by practicing leading objections, you can learn to recognise leading questions and respond in a way that is truthful and accurate.

  2. Improving communication: by asking open-ended questions and allowing others to share their thoughts and feelings, you can build trust and deepen your relationships.

  3. Enhancing critical thinking: by asking clarifying questions and challenging assumptions, you can gain a deeper understanding of complex issues and make more informed decisions.

  4. Better decision-making: by being aware of leading questions and objections, you can be more objective and make better decisions because you won't be influenced by someone else's assumptions or suggestions.

  5. Increased confidence: by recognising and challenging leading questions and objections, you can feel more confident in your own opinions and decision-making abilities.

Overall, being aware of leading questions and practicing leading objections can help you navigate challenging conversations and situations, build stronger relationships, and make more informed decisions.

Being aware of manipulation and its tactics is an important life skill, as it can help you recognise when someone is trying to manipulate you and take steps to protect yourself. This includes setting boundaries, being assertive, and learning how to say no when necessary. It's also important to develop strong critical thinking skills and to be able to evaluate information and situations objectively, rather than being swayed by someone else's opinions or agenda.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, the use of leading questions and the potential for manipulation in court and everyday life are significant topics to consider. Understanding the dynamics of leading questions and their manipulative power allows us to navigate through situations with greater discernment and critical thinking. In the courtroom, objections to leading questions play a crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of witness testimony and ensuring a fair trial. By recognising and challenging leading questions, we can protect ourselves from manipulation, enhance communication, and make better-informed decisions. Furthermore, extending our awareness of leading questions beyond the legal context empowers us to navigate everyday interactions more effectively, promoting independent thinking and resisting undue influence. By cultivating these skills, we can build a society that values truth, transparency, and the pursuit of unbiased information. So, let us be vigilant and stand against the manipulative power of leading questions, both within the courtroom and in our everyday lives. And  whenever you spot one, don’t forget to… “Objection, your Honour. Leading!”


About the Author

Chiara Lamacchia is a consultant in legal, marketing & legal forecasting, working in corporate strategy for global organisations across different sectors, after an LL.M. from Bocconi University (Milan, Italy) and an MSc in Marketing from Edinburgh Napier University (UK). Chiara is the Founder of and, promoting the adoption of ground-breaking ways of using the law for innovation and competitive advantage.

Besides, among other things, she authored and published the book "Lawrketing – What Business Never Realised About Law", introducing the concept of “lawrketing” through a unique combination of law, business, marketing and innovation.

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> Find more articles in the series The Legal Edge Series on Legal Business World

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It involves using tactics such as deception, coercion, flattery, and guilt to control or influence another person's behaviour or decisions geometry dash subzero

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