Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Fishing Expedition Definition:

A speculative demand for information without any real expectation about the outcome of the demand or its relevance to the litigation.

A question posed to the other side of litigation upon which the questioner on matters that appear to be irrelevant and with no known basis of fact but which he hopes the answer to which may assist the questioner in their case.

In Harris, Justice Heneghan of the federal Court wrote:

"The term fishing expedition has been generally used to describe an indiscriminate request for production, in the hope of uncovering helpful information."

In R v Fitch, Justice MacDonald used these words in considering an application for disclosure:

"... the Court ought to guard against the pursuit of what have been termed fishing expeditions — speculative quests for information without any real expectation about the outcome of the quest or its relevance to the case."

Although initially used colloquially by judges in criticizing wide questions posed to a witness at trial, or to a witness at an examination for discovery, the tem fishing expedition has taken on a life of its own in the vocabulary of the law to refer to, as Justice Esher wrote in 1890 (Hennessy):

"... the plaintiff wishes to maintain his questions, and to insist upon answers to them, in order that he may find out something of which he knows nothing new, which might enable him to make a case of which he has no knowledge at present. If that is the effect of the interrogatories, it seems to me that they come within the description of fishing interrogatories, and on that ground cannot be allowed."

Unless discovery is made upon matters which are relevant, they are subject to being dismissed as fishing expeditions. In regards to the facts at hand in Goguen, Justice Marceau wrote:

"By requesting the documents, therefore, the appellants are not engaged in a fishing expedition; the information they seek is clearly relevant."

In Robertson, Justice Slatter wrote:

"So-called fishing expeditions are not permitted. This rule is directed at situations where the person calling the witness does not have any idea whether the witness has anything to say, and cannot provide the court with any reasonable basis for believing that the witness will provide some useful testimony. Even where the witness is known to have information, the calling of witnesses for discovery purposes is not permitted.... Witnesses are to be called to prove things, not as a part of an investigatory process"


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