Evidence refers to something that furnishes proof of a matter. In the legal context, it is something legally submitted in court to ascertain the truth of a matter. Rules of evidence are the rules by which a court determines what evidence is admissible at trial. Evidence is the ways and means used to persuade the judge of your facts as the judge is expected to start off with a blank slate; no preconceived idea or knowledge of the facts. It is up to the opposing parties to, by taking turns, prove (by providing evidence), to the satisfaction of the court, the facts needed to support their respective cases.
The word ‘evidence’ is originated from a Latin term ‘evidentia’ which means to show clearly, to make clear to the sight to discover clearly certain, to ascertain or to prove. Thus, evidence is something, which serves to prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of an alleged fact. The party who alleges the existence of a certain fact has to prove its existence and the party, who denies it, has to disprove its existence or prove its non-existence. Judge’s decision is limited to the evidence placed before him. Therefore, it is important that a party provide as much relevant evidence as possible to support his case.
According to Taylor, “evidence includes all the legal means, exclusive of mere argument, which tend to prove or disprove any matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to judicial investigation.”
According to Stephen, evidence means that part of the law or procedure which, with a view to ascertain the individual rights and liabilities in particular cases, decides—
Evidence is the key factor to reach a decision in judicial process. Because of its extreme importance, it is quite desirable to set out rules that would regulate “evidence procedure“, especially in judicial process. Such regulation, known as evidence law, represents the system of rules and standards by which the admission of proof at the trial of a lawsuit is regulated.
In legal sense evidence means and includes—
The most important factor in determining whether a piece of evidence is admissible is its relevance to the proceeding.
“Relevant evidence” includes any evidence that would make the existence of a material fact “more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”
“Relevant evidence is evidence that is logically connected to the fact it is intended to establish.” —Blackwell
“The word ‘relevant’ means that any two facts to which it is applied are so related to each other that according to the common course of events one either taken by itself or in connection with other facts proves or renders probable the past, present, or future existence or non-existence of the other.” —Stephen
As a rule, relevant evidence is admissible, while evidence deemed irrelevant is not. Even if evidence is deemed relevant by a judge, it could be excluded, if the possibility that it would confuse a jury, mislead jurors, or unfairly prejudice jurors against a defendant is greater than its probative value.
“Relevance is not a matter of logic, but depends on matters of fact.” Haack
If the evidence does not relate to proving the place, time, identity of the accused, or criminal acts within the offence itself, the evidence will not be considered relevant to the charge. The prosecution may present evidence in the form of a physical exhibit that the court can see and examine to consider, or they may present evidence in the form of witness testimony, in which case the witness is telling the court what they perceived within the limits of their senses.
The term ‘evidence’, as it relates to investigation, includes a wide range of information sources that might eventually inform the court to prove or disprove points at issue before the trial court. Sources of evidence can include anything from the observations of witnesses to the examination and analysis of physical objects. It can even include the spatial relationships between people, places, and objects within the timeline of events. From the various forms of evidence, the court can draw inferences and reach conclusions to determine if a charge has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence takes many forms, including testimony of a witness; real, tangible, physical and documentary evidence; chattels; microscopic fibers, biological material and open forensic matter; character evidence; intellectual copyrights, trademarks and patents; habits and customs; conviction records; public records; recordings, motion pictures, photographs and videotapes; vital statistics; confessions; personal or professional reputation; mental state or condition; and judicially noticed findings.
Laws may broadly be classified in to substantive and adjective—
Adjective laws are concerned with the method of presenting cases to court proving them or generally enforcing the rights and duties provided under the substantive laws.
Substantive laws are those that defines rights and duties. This forms the greater part of the law, it would seem that it is more important part, since it defines what rights, privileges and duties one person may have against or owe another.
However, the rights, privileges and duties that exist under such law will mean nothing unless they can be enforced. This is why adjective law is just as important as the substantive law.
Law of evidence is categorized under adjective law together with procedural laws, both criminal and civil procedure. Of course, some scholars suggested that there would not be any problem, if we incorporate rules of evidence as one part of procedural law since they have similar purpose. However, the consensus has been reached in categorizing law of evidence as one part of adjective law for the sake of establishing more effective system of adjudication of cases before the court of law. Although one can see grains of evidence law in procedural laws, their main dealing is with how pleadings can be framed, investigation conducted, evidence collected etc. This does not necessarily make the law of evidence to be part of procedural law.
There are certain issues procedural laws never address and are left to evidence law. For instance, in the procedural law you did not study about the standard of proof, facts to be proved or need not be proved and the valve to be given to each term of evidence etc. These are left to evidence law. Therefore, evidence law is not strictly speaking procedural law, but shares the commonality with procedural laws in the sense that both are means to the enforcement of the substantive law. Thus, evidence law suitably falls within the general category of adjective laws, which deal with the enforcement of the substantive law.
The division of law into two broad categories of substantive law and procedural law is well-known. Broadly stated, whereas substantive law defines and provides for rights, duties, liabilities, it is the function of the procedural law to deal with the application of substantive law to particular cases.
It goes without saying that the law of evidence is a part of the law of procedure.
Stephen says that: The law of evidence is that part of the law of procedure, which, with a view to ascertain individual rights and liabilities in particular cases, decides—
The law of evidence regulates the process of proof. The rules of civil and criminal evidence, in conjunction with the rules of procedure, establish the framework for the process of proof and the conduct of litigation so that a lawyer advising his client, preparing his case for trial, or presenting it to the court or tribunal will know what issues his client must prove in order to succeed.
Bentham identified that rules of evidence occupy a central part of our judicial system, existing to exclude considerations that can have no rational bearing, or which substitute prejudice for reason. Inefficient rules of evidence impair access to justice and ‘justice’ itself.
Determination of what matters should be given in evidence as essential for the ascertainment of truth is the purpose of the law of evidence, whether at common law or by statute. Once a statute is passed, which purports to contain the whole law, it is imperative. It is not open to any judge to exercise a dispensing power, and admit evidence not admissible by the statute because to him, it appears that the irregular evidence would throw light upon the issue. The rules of evidence, whether contained in a statute or not, are the result of long experience choosing, no doubt, to confine evidence to particular forms and, therefore, eliminating others which it is conceivable might assist in arriving at truth. But that which, has been eliminated has been considered to be of such doubtful value as, on the whole, to be more likely to disguise truth than discover it. It is, therefore, discarded for all purposes and in all circumstances. To allow a judge to introduce it at his own discretion would be to destroy the whole object of the general rule. Maharaja Sris Chandra Nandy vs Rakhalananda Thakur2)
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on Law.