Burden of proof in civil cases is regulated by the combined provisions of Section 131, 132 and 133 of the Evidence Act, 2011 which provided that:
Section 131(1) Whoever desires any court to give judgment as to any legal right or liability dependent on the existence of facts which he asserts must prove that those facts exists.
In a long line of cases, our courts have given judicial expression to the above principles. In Ojukwu V. Obasanjo, the Court of Appeal, held inter alia that:
In a civil case, the burden of proof lies on the person who would fail, assuming no evidence had been adduced on either side. Further, in respect of particular facts, the burden rests on the party against whom judgment would be given if no evidence were produced in respect of those facts.
Also in Wilson Esi V. CNP/BEP International & anor, the Court of Appeal re-iterated the law as follows:
“The burden of proof is always on the party whose case will be adversely affected if the particular facts in issue are not proved.
From the foregoing provisions supported by judicial authorities, it becomes apparent that the burden of proof in civil cases is, generally always but not invariably, on the plaintiff.
This is so because it is usually the plaintiff who will demand the enforcement of a right to which he claims to be entitled; and if no evidence is adduced in proof thereof, he is the party who will fail. See the case of Nwaga V. registered Trustees Recreation Club.
Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases
The burden of proving the guilty of any person accused of any criminal offence is always on the prosecution. See Section 131 and 132 of the Evidence Act. This is by virtue of the general principle that he who asserts must prove. Finally, see S. 135(2) EA and S. 36(5) of the Constitution. See also the case of People of Lagos State V. The State were the Supreme Court recapitulated the rule that the law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove the guilty of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
Exceptions to the General Rule
There are a few exceptional cases were the accused bears the burden of proof in criminal cases.
- Burden of proving exemptions, exceptions or qualifications: See S. 36(5) of the Constitution which state that: nothing in the provision of the subsection shall invalidate any law by reason only that, the law imposes on any person a burden of proving a particular fact. See also Section 139(1) AND 141(1) OF EA.
- Burden of proving insanity and intoxication: See the case of Edoho V. State, the law is that in all criminal cases everyman is presumed to be sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible to his crimes until the contrary is proved.
- Burden of proving facts within the knowledge of the accused: By Section 140 EA, where any matter or facts is especially within the knowledge of the accused person the onus of proving Such matter of fact lies on him. See the case of Christopher Oti V. I.G.P
- Burden imposed by other Statues: see Section 417 of the Criminal Code and S. 60 of the Pharmacy Act. See also the case of the Queen V. Ohaka were the Supreme Court held that the onus was on an appellant charged under Section 60 of the Pharmacy Act to prove that he had a poisonous drug in his possession without any intent that it should be used for an illegal purpose.
- The burden of proving the defence of alibi: See the case of Shehu V. The State were the Supreme Court held that ‘it is the duty of the accused person relying on an alibi to give details of the alibi he has set up to enable the prosecution or the police to investigate it.
- Burden of proving special pleas in Bar: where in a criminal trial, the defence raises either a pleas of autrefois acquit or autrefois convict, the burden of establishing the pleas is on the accused person. Autre fois acquit means a plea in bar of arraignment against the defendant who has been acquitted of the offence while autre foise convict refers to a plea in bar of arraignment against the defendant who has been convicted of the offence.