In any court case, the parties must produce evidence in support of their case – whether that is the claimaint/prosecution or the defence. Without supporting evidence, the claim/prosecution or defence is highly likely to fail.
Whilst witness evidence is critical in court proceedings, not all evidence produced is in fact admissible. There are clear legal rules as to what evidence is admissible in court. The first rule of evidence is that it must be relevant to be admissible. For the evidence to be relevant, the facts which are subject to being proved or disproved must amount to:
There are different types of evidence:
The parties to the proceedings will usually give oral evidence in open court, as will any witnesses who are called to provide oral evidence. Oral evidence is evidence put forward as the truth of its contents.
A witness statement is a true, accurate summary of a lay witness’s evidence as to the facts. An expert witness report or statement is the written evidence of an expert, such as a doctor or engineer. A witness’s evidence sets out what the witness believes to be the relevant evidence in the case and must be based upon their own knowledge of the facts, and not conjecture. Witness statements must make clear what is based on the witness’s own knowledge, and those matters which are their belief. Opinion evidence is not, generally, admissible – though expert opinion is an exception.
Real evidence is usually tangible, and takes the form of some kind of material object produced before the court. It is normally produced to show that it exists, or so that an inference can be drawn from its physical properties or condition, and so on. An example of real evidence would be faulty goods produced as evidential proof of a fault in the item.
Real evidence includes material objects; the appearance of people or animals; photographs; and so on.
Documentary evidence can be wide-ranging and includes any documents or written records that help prove or defend a claim. It is essentially anything that contains writing, including digital records. Documentary evidence ranges from diaries, spreadsheets, work accident log books, employment contracts, and medical notes, to vehicle repair invoices, pay slips, transcripts of phone calls and emails.
Hearsay evidence is where a witness in proceedings seeks to give evidence of a particular fact on the basis of what was said to him or her by a third party. The general rule is that hearsay evidence is admissible in civil proceedings under the Civil Evidence Act 1995, however you (ie. your solicitor) must give notice to the other side of your intention to rely on hearsay evidence.
Hearsay evidence is basically second hand evidence, as such, the court is likely not to give so much weight to hearsay evidence as it would to other evidence. The court will take a number of factors into account when weighing up the strength or otherwise of the hearsay evidence.
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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