What is documentary evidence

Introduction to what is documentary evidence.

Just as a party in any judicial proceedings can give oral evidence in proof and fortification of his case, he can also rely on documents. However, admissibility of documents is determined by the courts guided by the provisions of the Act. It is here proposed to examine, albeit briefly, some important matters relating to documentary evidence.

As a preliminary point, it is relevant to note some salient point about the use of documentary evidence in any judicial proceeding. First, before a document is admissible in evidence, three main conditions must be satisfied. These are; that:-

  1. It must be pleaded;
  2. It must be relevant to the inquiry before the court; and
  3. It must be admissible in law.

Second, there is a distinction between admissibility of document and ascription of probative value. Like other means of proof, admissibility is one thing, the weight to be attached to it is another thing altogether. thus, in abubakar v Chuks , the Supreme Court succinctly held that relevancy and weight are two distinct compartments in our law of evidence.

Third, where documents are tendered in evidence, their essence or import must be shown by the party who tenders them as it is not the duty of the trial judge to investigate the contents of documents in order to deceipher their relevance.

fourth, while documents may be used in addition to other means of proof, the contents of a document are, as a general rule, conclusive and exclusive. As such, oral evidence may not be allowed to be given to alter or contradict the contents.

Fifth, as a general rule, when a party wishes to rely on the contents of a document, the document itself should be put in evidence. This is what is referred to as the Best Evidence Rule.

Admissibility of documentary evidence

Generally, by section 1 of the Act, admissibility of evidence (oral or documentary) is dependent on relevancy. Accordingly, a document which is irrelevant in a particular proceeding will be inadmissible. However, a document which is relevant may nonetheless be rejected as inadmissible if it is not pleaded or it fails to satisfy the condition for admissibility of document provided for in section 89.

It must be noted however that a document will not be held inadmissible simply because it was not produced from proper custody. it has been held that once documentary evidence is relevant and admissible in law, the fact that it was criminally, fraudulently or unlawfully obtained is immaterial.

Similarly, the fact that the record of proceedings in the custody of the trial court was destroyed would not affect a certified true copy thereof. The point must also be made that an unsigned document has no probative value as was held in A.G. kwara State & anor v. Chief Alao & anor. Indeed, it would appear that such document is totally inadmissible. Where a document is inadmissible by law under any circumstance, it is not within the competence of the court, or the parties in the suit to admit the document by consent.

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