SCOPE Contributor Tracey Gauley, paralegal, reviews The Portable Guide to Witnesses, Second Edition, by Peter Sankoff.
This reference guide is a valuable tool that should be added to every legal professional’s toolbox.
Professor Sankoff, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is widely published lawyer and Professor of Law at the University of Alberta. He concentrates his teaching and research on legal issues surrounding the criminal trial process and the relationship between animals and the law. He developed the concisely written soft-cover Guide to Witnesses with on-the-fly courtroom experience in mind.
Spiral binding, easy-to-read headings and 11 tabbed chapters make the book a breeze to reference in the heat of a proceeding or trial.
Prof. Sankoff tackles common missteps in practical situations, trouble-shooting for the reader with remedies for such challenges as hostile witnesses, unsophisticated witnesses, witnesses from other jurisdictions, and minors who testify.
Richly supported by a wealth of case law, including recent Supreme Court decisions, The Portable Guide to Witnesses, Second Edition, delves into every area of law concerning witnesses. Written in a natural, commentary-style format, the chapters flow logically, to produce a cohesive whole.
In the key subject of whether a witness would be permitted to testify at all, understanding the role of a witness in the trial process is necessary. This is covered in the first chapter of the book, in which Prof. Sankoff dissects the witness role in detail.
My favourite chapter is new for the Second Edition — Chapter 9, about expert witnesses. If a judge questions a paralegal as to whether a witness is qualified to testify as an “expert,” it is important to understand the criteria that must be met. In this second edition of The Portable Guide to Witnesses, Prof. Sankoff offers well-researched and up-to-date guidance on how best to handle such situations.
I found this to be most interesting and it is certainly relevant to the paralegal scope of practice. When advocating in the Ontario Court of Justice, Small Claims Court, or before a tribunal, we may examine or cross-examine various experts. We may encounter police officers, adjusters, landlords, and people whose testimony is intended to clarify specialized information for triers of fact.
Credibility and Weight
Prof. Sankoff thoroughly examines the credibility and weight given to expert witness testimony, as well as the important element of witness protection.
As an example of expert testimony in action, consider this fictitious Small Claims lawsuit. Client Mary is suing John, for his over-use of pesticides on his property, claiming that John is responsible for killing trees on her property. Chances are, the trier of fact has little or no knowledge about tree health. An effective paralegal may wish to call in an arborist as an expert on the health and safety of trees.
The advocate will need to prepare and qualify this expert. Chapter 9 of the Portable Guide clarifies the guidelines and criteria to be met. It considers such issues as: gauging the chances of admissibility and weighing the relevance and necessity of the testimony.
I especially appreciate Prof. Sankoff’s Court of Appeal list of suggestions for practitioners to assess relevance and reliability.
Such knowledge is a win-win for the prepared paralegal. It saves client time and money, increases the likelihood of success and wastes less court time — always useful in making a good impression with the court or tribunal. This guide amplifies the duties, standards and reputation of the paralegal profession, by encouraging thorough preparation.
The Portable Guide to Witnesses, Second Edition, by Peter Sankoff
Published: 2011 — Thomson Reuters Canada Limited
A version of this article previously appeared in RegQuest, the Regulatory Affairs and Compliance publication.
Read Tracey Gauley’s review of Handling Provincial Offence Cases in Ontario 2012