Steps in a Lawsuit: Trial

If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute themselves, the matter will proceed to trial. Trials will either be heard by a judge alone or by a judge with a jury.

In essence, a trial consists of each party presenting evidence that they believe proves the point they’re trying to make. The other party always has an opportunity to challenge that evidence to see how it holds up under scrutiny.

Evidence typically comes in the form of testimony given by witnesses. The party who calls a particular witness to give evidence will begin by asking questions of the witness. This is known as direct examination. The opposing party will then get to cross-examine the witness. Unlike direct examination where the witness can’t be asked leading questions, in cross-examination, suggestions and propositions can be put to the witness to test the credibility and reliability of what they are saying. If something arises on cross-examination that could not have been dealt with by the party calling the witness, that party will be able to re-examine the witness on those discrete points.

Documents are another common type of evidence. These can go into evidence either by agreement or a rule of law, or through a witness who identifies the document.

The plaintiff always goes first. After giving an opening statement to tell the court what the case is about, the plaintiff will call their witnesses who will be subject to cross-examination. At the end of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant will give a brief opening statement and call their witnesses. Once both parties are done presenting their cases, the plaintiff will give his closing submissions. The defendant will then give his closing submissions. As with questioning witnesses, the plaintiff will be given an opportunity to briefly respond to what the defendant said.

The judge or jury will then give their decision, known as the verdict. There is no telling how long it will take for a verdict to be rendered. Juries typically give their decision quicker than a judge sitting alone. Judges typically reserve judgment meaning they go away for a while to ponder the evidence and come to a considered opinion. When this happens, the judge will issue written reasons to both parties.