Evidence in court proceedings

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:

  • Facts in issue, ie. those which need to be proved by one party.
  • Relevant facts, ie. those which tend to prove the facts in issue.
  • Collateral facts which may, for example, affect the credibility and/or competence of a witness.

Types of evidence

There are different types of evidence:

  • Oral testimony: the oral statement of a witness made on oath in open court and put forward as evidence of its truth.
  • Witness statements and expert reports: written statements made by witnesses including expert reports, which are produced in the proceedings as evidence.
  • Real (tangible) evidence: this is usually a material object of some kind, which is produced for inspection, either to prove that it exists, or so that the court can make an inference as to its condition or value, for example, ripped clothing, a knife or burnt documents.
  • Hearsay evidence: hearsay evidence is a statement not made in oral evidence in the proceedings that is evidence of the matter stated.
  • Documentary evidence: documents including digital records of communications, and so on, produced as evidence to the court.

Oral 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.

Witness statements

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

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

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

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.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

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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