Definition: Law of Evidence
However, since a definition is no more than a mere abstraction or approximation, it will suffice to note some of the attempts which have been made to define the term.
According to Phipson, Evidence means the testimony, whether oral, documentary or real, which may be legally received in order to prove or disprove some facts in dispute.
A noteworthy judicial attempts as to the meaning of evidence was provided by the Supreme Court in the case of Akintola & Anor V. Solano (1963) SC 141 at 184, when it stated as follows:
If a thing is evident, it does not require evidence. What therefore is evidence? Simply put, it is the means by which any matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, maybe established or disproved. Evidence is therefore necessary to prove or disprove an issue of fact.
Scope of the Evidence Law
The scope of the subject has been admirably stated by professor Noakes as consisting of:
- “facts which are legally admissible; and
- The legal means of attempting to prove such facts.”
Accordingly, when we talk of judicial evidence, we are referring to the vehicle, that is, the means by which facts are proved in court. Thus the law of evidence determines what facts may or may not be proved, the sort of evidence which may be given in proof of a fact, and the person and manner in which the evidence may be produced and by which any fact is to be proved. Michael Hirst brilliantly captured the functions of the law of evidence as follows:
The law of evidence encompasses rather broader functions. It includes regulating the means and methods by which facts may be proved to the satisfaction of the court; it allocates burden of proof as between the parties and it prescribes the standard of proof which a court must require before it can make a finding on a given issue. The law of evidence also includes in its broader compass rules prescribing the relative functions of and evaluation of evidence.
It is considered expedient to state here what is meant by “facts” and “proof of facts” since we have stated that evidence deals with facts and their proof.
According to Section 258(1), which is the definition section of the Evidence Act, a fact is defined to include:
- Anything, state of things, or relation of things, capable of being perceived by the senses; and
Any mental condition of which any person is conscious.
What is meant by proof of fact is provided in S. 121 which is a reproduction of S. 2(2) of the repealed Act as follows:
A fact is:
- “Proved” when after considering the matters before it, the court either believes it to exist or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, in the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it does exist;
- “Disproved” when after considering the matter before it, the court either believes that it does not exist or considered its non-existence so probable that a prudent man ought, in the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it does not exist;
“Not proved” when it is neither proved nor disproved.
Perhaps it is essential to mention in conclusion of these introductory matters that, opinions, inferences and arguments do not, strictly speaking, fall within the purview of the law of evidence. Even where opinion evidence is admissible in evidence, it does not take the place of fact, which is the primary means by which a case may be established.