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This article has been written by Diva Rai, 1st year student, Symbiosis Law School, Noida. In this article she discusses the rule of evidence in criminal and civil proceedings, definitions, history of evidence law, conditions and classification and burden of proof.

Definition of Evidence

In legal terms, the burden of proof, admissibility, relevance, weight, and adequacy of what ought to be recorded in a legal proceeding is covered by the evidence. Evidence is significant and crucial in civil and criminal proceedings and it may incorporate samples of blood or hair, video surveillance recordings, or testimony from witnesses.

History of Evidence Law

Evidence rules have been developed over several centuries and are based on rules from the Anglo-American common law that was brought to the New World by early settlers. The purpose of it is to be fair to both parties and, in fact, to refuse without a basis to raise allegations. They are sometimes criticized as a legal technicity, but they are an important part of the system to achieve a just result.

Perhaps the most important rules on evidence is that testimony to hearsay is generally inadmissible (although many exceptions to this rule are present). In England and Wales, section 1 of the 1995 Civil Evidence Act specifically allows “hearsay” evidence to be admitted, legislation also allows “hearsay” evidence to be used in criminal proceedings, allowing the accuser to induce friends or family to provide false evidence in support of their accusations as would normally be rejected by the presiding authority or judge. There are several examples where the rules of evidence do not bind presiding authorities. These include the U.S. military tribunals and tribunals used to try health professionals in Australia.

Types of Evidence

There are four general types of evidence:

  • Real evidence (tangible things, like a weapon)
  • Documentary (a letter, blog post, or another document)
  • Demonstrative (a model of what probably happened at a given time and place)
  • Testimonial (witness testimony)

Important Terms

  1. Circumstantial Evidence: proof that tends to prove a factual matter with the aid of proving other events or circumstances from that can reasonably be inferred from the occurrence of the matter.
  2. Corroborating Evidence: evidence that is independent and different from, but supplements and strengthens the evidence that has already been presented as evidence of the fact.
  3. Hearsay: a statement or assertion made by a court and not by an oath that is offered as proof that what is stated is true (usually considered inadmissible).
  4. Exclusionary Rule: a rule of evidence excluding or suppressing evidence obtained in violation of constitutional rights of a defendant.

Conditions for Receiving Evidence

Something will be accepted as evidence by the court if it is admissible as evidence in legal proceedings to use the term of Montrose, only when the following three basic conditions are met:

  • Relevance
  • Materiality
  • Admissibility

1- Relevance

Legal Significance of Relevance

The concept of relevance plays a key role in finding legal facts. The two basic principles of evidence law are:

  • Without exception, the court may receive anything that is not relevant as evidence.
  • Whatever is relevant is admissible as evidence by the court, subject to many exceptions and qualifications.

Conceptions of Logical Relevance

In legal proceedings, evidence may be adduced to prove a fact only if the fact is relevant. Relevance is a concept of relationships. No fact in itself is relevant; it is only relevant in relation to a different fact.

Evidence is relevant if the probability ratio is different from 1:1. However, evidence may also be relevant for other reasons, such as providing for a richer narrative or helping the court understand other evidence. For these reasons, witnesses are routinely permitted to give their names, and at the trial, parties may present charts, diagrams, and floor plans.
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Logical Relevance versus Legal Relevance

Logical relevance is commonly referred to as the concept of relevance under consideration. This is a bit of a misnomer: “Relevance is not a matter of logic, but it depends on factual issues.” A key target of utilizing the logical adjective is to flag non-legal character relevance. Relevance is said to be a consistent and non-legal concept in the sense that in answering a question of relevance and applying the definition of relevance, the judge must depend on extra-legal resources and is not bound by legal precedents.

In the judgment of Cushing C.J. in State v LaPage [1] it was remarked:

“There are many instances in which the evidence of particular facts as bearing on particular issues has been so often the subject of discussion in courts of law, and so often ruled upon, that the united logic of a great many judges and lawyers may be said to furnish…the best evidence of what may be properly called common-sense, and thus to acquire the authority of law.”

2- Materiality and Facts-in-issue

That fact A is relevant to fact B is not enough to prove fact A in court. Furthermore, B must be a fact of “material.” The materiality of facts is determined in a particular case by the law applicable to that case. It depends on the law defining the offense charged against the accused in a criminal prosecution and the law setting out the elements of the legal claim brought against the accused in a civil trial.

The law does not permit the adduction of evidence to prove facts that are immaterial or are not in question. In the broader sense that encompasses the concepts under discussion, relevance is often used. Evidence is sometimes described as irrelevant, not because there is no logical inference that can be drawn to the proposal being sought to prove, but because it is not material or uncontroversial.

3- Admissibility

Admissibility and Relevance

Another condition for receiving evidence in legal proceedings must be met. Legal rules prohibit the presentation of evidence in a trial even though it is relevant to a factual proposition of material and subject-matter. These rules render inadmissible the evidence they apply to and require that the judge exclude it.

Examples- Rule against hearsay evidence, the rule against character evidence.

There is no clear distinction between admissibility and receivability. It is common to describe as inadmissible irrelevant evidence or evidence of an immaterial fact. What this means is that if it is meaningless or immaterial, the tribunal will refuse to obtain proof. But, importantly, for reasons other than irrelevance and immateriality, the court also excludes evidence. It is also necessary to keep apart the concepts of admissibility and materiality. This is because admissibility or exclusionary rules serve purposes and rationales other than the law defining the crime or civil claim before the court, and it is this law that determines the materiality of the facts in the dispute.

Admissibility or Exclusionary Rules

Admissibility or exclusionary rules are products of a jury system in which untrained citizens sit as factual judges in evaluating evidence. These rules came about as it was deemed necessary to keep away certain types of evidence from inexperienced jurors that could mislead or be misled by them.

Example- Evidence to which judges are likely to give too much weight or which puts their minds at risk of creating unfair prejudice. Even if the theory is correct, it does not necessarily follow that, once the jury system is removed, exclusionary rules should be abolished.

The procedural reality is that judges will have to be presented to the evidence to decide their admissibility. Since a judge can not be expected to relied upon to reasonably expel the evidence from his mind once he has chosen to exclude it, there seems a little point in excluding the evidence; we could also enable the evidence and the judge to give the evidence the probative value it deserves.

Classification of Evidence

Evidence may lead to the required conclusion, directly or indirectly, as to whether or not there is a disputed fact. Evidence is therefore divided into two parts: direct and circumstantial. Witnesses give oral testimony of something they perceived with their own senses provide direct evidence. It is also provided by the presentation of documents, photographs and the like that the judge is required to interpret with his senses and includes the physical presence of the witness in the witness box that gives rise to an evaluation of the credibility of the witness by the judge. In this case, it may include any incriminating admissions by a party.

Circumstantial evidence, however, is indirect evidence that tends to infer a conclusion. It does not tell or prove directly that the alleged or disputed fact exists or does not exist. But they form a chain that leads to a logical conclusion when putting together. Criminal cases based entirely on circumstantial evidence are therefore the hardest to prove beyond reasonable doubt the required standard of proof.

Circumstantial evidence requires the judge to draw generalizations from commonly held human nature assumptions. For example, in a murder case, evidence that a defendant lied to the police about his time and had a violent argument with the victim a few days before the killing would be relevant circumstantial evidence of the guilt of the accused. The inference is based on the common assumption that murderers are usually motivated to commit murder and are usually lying to cover their tracks.

Burden of Proof in criminal and civil proceedings

In criminal cases, the general rule is that the prosecution bears the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant and the substantive law defines what the prosecution has to prove to convict the defendant. This will usually include elements of the mens rea and actus real, for example, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the offense set out in the Criminal Code when pursuing a conviction for theft.

While the rules of civil proof do not incorporate the same principles enshrined in criminal proceedings (i.e., the accused in criminal proceedings is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution), the well-established general rule on the incidence of the legal burden of proof in civil proceedings is that” he who claims must prove.” The legal burden of proving a fact in a civil trial is, to put it simply, on the party that claims that fact. Hence, in civil cases, the plaintiff’s first burden of proof lies. This burden of proof, however, will shift to the defendant if the defendant denies the allegations and finds a positive default such as “counterclaim.” The burden of proof in such a case lies with the defendant.

Judicial Admissions not conclusive in Criminal Cases

The issue may be life and death in criminal cases. So the court will take due care not to be convicted and punished by an innocent person. So it is expected that the courts will critically examine the reasons behind the confession. Because sometimes innocent people may admit the commission of the crime to cover up another person, for fame, or by his criminal act to be known throughout the world.

Admission shall be made without reservation in criminal cases. When we say the accused admitted, we say he admitted that every and every criminal element of the alleged offense usually includes mens rea and actus reus elements. However, the party may admit the truth of the whole or any part of the other party’s case in civil proceedings.

Illustration: The plaintiff lodged a lawsuit against the defendant for breach of the amount of 10,000 contracts. Here, half of the complainant may be admitted by the defendant and the rest may be denied. In such a case, the issue (the point of disagreement) rests solely on the complainant’s unadmitted claims, and the court shall give judgments on the admitted amount.

Wrong inference be made from circumstances

Since most crimes are carried out in a very sophisticated manner, direct evidence is difficult to obtain. The option we have in such a case is, by circumstantial evidence, to prove the contested fact. However, there is a possibility that such circumstances may form false inferences. For example, if you look at the footsteps alone in a murder case, it can be anybody’s footsteps from the victim’s house. And it also doesn’t mean that anyone buying a piston or knife wants to kill a person.

Circumstances should, therefore, be considered cumulatively and not in isolation from one another. They lead to a certain logical conclusion where the facts are put together. There should be no self-contradictory circumstances that are consistent with the accused’s innocence and others consistent with his guilt. If they contradict, their ability to prove diminishes as the contradiction increases. Therefore, the court must be careful when giving a ruling based on circumstantial evidence.


[1] 1876 57 N.H. 245 at 288



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