Standard of Proof in Civil law

The standard of proof in civil law is proof on the balance of probability or preponderance of evidence.

Thus the burden of proof on the plaintiff (or on the defendant in cases where he has the onus of proof) in civil case is not to establish his case beyond reasonable doubt as in criminal cases before the court can find in his favour. He is only to establish that his story is more probable or likely to be true than that of the defendant.

To do this, the number of witnesses called may not be material. What is important is that he calls credible and material witness(es) who can establish his claims.

This is so because what is relevant is the quality or probative value of the evidence adduced before the court. It is in the light of the foregoing that it was noted in Ezekiel Ezinwa & anor v. Emmanuel Agu & ors that it is not that the plaintiff adduces evidence, but that which ought reasonably to satisfy a jury that the fact sought to be proved is established.

Thus, the evidence adduced must be credible, cogent, reliable and convincing evidence. In Onwuka v. Omogui, Nnaemeka-Agu observed that: “in civil cases, facts are proved on a preponderance of evidence and that when there is nothing on the other side of the balance the onus of proof is discharged on a minimal proof.
The manner of asserting where the balance of probability lies has been explained in the case of Mogaji & ors v. Odofin & ors as follows:

“The judge should first of all put the totality of the testimony adduced by both parties on an imaginary scale; he will put the evidence adduced by the plaintiff on the side of the scale and that of the defendant on the other side and weigh them together.

He will then see which is heavier not by the number of witnesses called by each party, but the quality or the probative value of the testimony of those witnesses. In determining which is heavier, the judge will naturally have regard to whether the evidence is admissible, relevant, credible, conclusive, and more probable than that given by other party.

Preponderance of evidence in civil cases

Although the standard of proof in civil cases is said to be on the balance of probabilities, there are four notable instances where a higher degree of proof is required. These are as follows:

  1. Where there is allegation of crime. Where one of the parties to a civil action alleges the commission of a crime, the standard of proof required is proof beyond reasonable doubt. This is by virtue of Section 135 of the Evidence Act. In Nwobodo v. Onuh, the Supreme Court stated that allegation of falsification in an election petition must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In Ezike v. Ezeugwu the Court of Appeal held per Akintan, J.C.A., that; “By section 137(1) of the Act (now section 135(1) when the commission of a crime by a party to any proceedings is directly in issue in any proceedings is directly in issue in any proceedings civil or criminal, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and such burden is placed on the person who asserts. The burden of proof beyond doubt with emphasis on “reasonable doubt” and not proof beyond all doubts…
  2. Where special damages are claimed: In civil cases where the plaintiff claims special damages (or the defendants where he counter-claims) such damages are required to be strictly proved. strict proof in this context requires a higher standard of proof than that generally required in civil proceedings. The evidence offered in proof thereof must show the same particularity as is necessary for its pleadings. In Khawan v. Akinkugbe the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan stated that: ” A claim in special damage to succeed must be pleaded and proved strictly as the court is not entitled to make its estimate on such an issue without such proof. The person making a claim in special damages should establish his entitlement to the type of damages by credible evidence of such character as would satisfy the court that he is indeed entitled to an award under that heading…
  3. Claims for interest: In all civil cases where there is a claim for interest, this must not only be specially pleaded but must be strictly proved. In First Bank of Nigeria PLC v. Excel Plastic Industry Limited, the Court of Appeal, Calabar Division, per Edozie, J.C.A. stated the law as follows: ” A claim based on special rate of interest sounds in special damages and must be strictly pleaded and likewise proved… Strict proof, as previously noted, is a higher standard of proof compared with proof on balance of probability or preponderance of evidence.
  4. Matrimonial Causes: In Matrimonial Causes, where adultry is alleged, the standard or proof required used to be proof beyond reasonable doubt. However, by virtue of the provision of section 82 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, all that the petitioner need do is to adduce sufficient evidence as to make the court reasonably satisfied of the existence of that fact. Although the phrase, “reasonably satisfied” may be lower than proof beyond reasonable doubt, it appears to require a higher degree of proof than a mere balance of probabilities. However, in Mazadu v. Mazadu, the Court of Appeal held that section 82(1) of the Matrimonial causes Act, 1970; make it unequivocal that the standard of proof required in Matrimonial causes is the same as that in normal cases, namely proof on the balance of probabilities.

burden of proof in civil cases (Standard of Proof in Civil law)

In the determination of cases submitted for adjudication, one fundamental question which inevitably arises is on whom does the burden of proof of the case or of a particular issue lie between the contending parties. the determination of this question is paramount because if the court fails to properly direct itself, its judgment is susceptible to being set aside. Further, if the party on whom the burden of proof lies fails to discharge the burden, then the case may go against him. it is proposed in this chapter to examine what is meant by burden of proof and the standard of proof required both in civil and criminal cases.


The expression, burden of proof, may be used in two senses and these two senses are, unfortunately, often confused. In the first sense, it means the legal burden on a party to convince the adjudicating court or tribunal, whether on a preponderance of evidence (in civil cases) or beyond reasonable doubt (in criminal cases), as to the truth of some prepositions or fact which are in issue and vital to his case.

In this sense, burden of proof refers to the ultimate burden of establishing a case. This burden is otherwise known as, “the ultimate burden,” of proof. If a party on whom this burden lies fails to discharge it, the consequence of such a failure the certainty of failure of his case, either in whole or in part.

thus, this burden is generally not discharged until the court finds in favour of the party on whom the onus lies. Also, this burden never shifts but remains on the same party throughout the trial, which party is determined at the beginning of the trial.

Second, burden of proof denotes the obligation upon a party to adduce sufficient evidence on a particular fact to enable the court find in his favour on that particular fact. This burden, otherwise known as “burden of producing evidence” or “evidential burden” preponderates (that is, shifts) from one party to the oter. the penalty for failure to discharge this burden is the possibility or risk but not the certainty of losing the whole case or part of it. When a party on whom lies the evidential burden has discharged the burden, the burden is then shifted to the other party. Standard of Proof in Civil law.

Standard of Proof in Civil law End.

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