Evidence is an important element of a court case, especially in the trial. It is the way by which information is put before the court to prove a matter. It is presented in different forms by way of direct or indirect evidence, but more so by the testimony or oral evidence of witnesses who appear before the court. It is generally known that evidence must be relevant, that is, it must have a tendency to make material facts more probable or less probable than would be the case without the evidence. Relevant evidence must be admissible, that is, the court would accept it and not throw it out.
It is important to note that there are many rules pertaining to evidence and the court operates almost like a science, so to speak, when it deals with evidence that comes before it.
For example, it admits evidence that is relevant but certain evidence could be relevant and not admissible because it is subject to a rule of exclusion or it might be prejudicial to the accused. For example, there is always some caution with character evidence and the rules are strict. The layman might feel that because the accused has a bad character he is likely to commit the particular offence. The jury might very well convict, not because the defendant is guilty, but because he is a bad person. The court would want to avoid such dangers, but if the defendant introduces evidence on his good character about a relevant trait then the prosecution could rebut on the relevant trait that he testified about. Moreover, if he brings a witness to the stand to talk about his good character then the prosecution can cross-examine the witness and bring his own witness to testify about the trait in question.
The court may exclude evidence that goes to public policy because it does not want persons to be hesitant in doing certain acts that are helpful to society and the court system.
Beneficial out of court acts are highly commendable. For example, if someone involved in an accident spontaneously offers to help with medical or hospital expenses that evidence may not be introduce to prove liability on the part of the person. In a disputed claim, offers to settle in a civil matter may not be used to prove liability because this
is helpful to the court in keeping the number of matters before the court low.
You would be playing an unenviable role when you appear before the court as a witness and you have an important duty to speak the truth. You cannot give evidence as to how you feel it should be about how the events actually unfolded.
Let us assume that you were an eyewitness to an event, this means that you were present when an accident occurred. You have an obligation to tell the truth because when you appear on the stand you are required to take an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” If you do not tell the truth you would be committing a perjury, that is, telling a lie while you are under oath. Don’t think that you cannot be caught; the prosecutor and defense lawyers are seasoned interrogators and will discover your untruth. The opposing side could impeach your credibility and your testimony would not be believed.
The obvious result is that the jury would not believe you.
You have an undeniable duty to tell the truth and once you do so, whether as defendant or witness, your evidence would help to resolve the case.
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: [email protected]
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