Admissibility of Evidence in the Singapore Courts
Within the Singapore legal system, a body of statutes, together with case law, regulate the use of evidence in our courts. These statutes include the Evidence Act (EA), the Criminal Procedure Code (for criminal cases), and the Rules of Court (for civil cases). Case law refers to judge made decisions which are generally binding on a lower or later court.
Burden of Proof
Sections 103 to 108 of the EA provide most of the evidential rules dealing with the burden of proof.
A person who asserts something to be fact bears the burden of proving that fact. When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him.
The legal burden in a criminal case generally rests on the prosecutor to prove the case against the accused. To do so, he bears the evidential burden, to adduce evidence to prove the accused’s guilt. Naturally, the accused needs to cast reasonable doubts on the accusations to clear his name.
In a civil case, both parties bear the burden of producing evidence to support their claims or defences.
Standard of Proof
In a criminal case, the standard of proof generally requires a prosecutor to prove his accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a civil case, the case is decided on a balance of probability.
Some statutes create a statutory presumption so much so that certain facts are presumed without being proved. For instance, if a person possesses more than 100g of opium, a statutory presumption that he possessed the opium for the purpose of trafficking shall be presumed until rebutted by contrary evidence.
In theory, statutory presumptions are imposed out of necessity due to several reasons:
- The purpose with which he did an act is peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused;
- The presumption operates but it is still possible for the accused to rebut the presumption;
- For certain statutes, general policy necessitates the use of presumptions, due both to the gravity of the offences and to ensure that the objective of statute is met;
- In certain cases, it is unduly difficulty for the prosecution to prove certain facts;
- For certain offences, such as drug trafficking, there is a high level of sophistication in the offences committed, necessitating the use of presumptions;
- Foreign jurisdictions, such as the UK and Malaysia, also rely on statutory presumptions.
When is Evidence Admissible?
Section 5 of the EA reads:
“Evidence may be given in any suit or proceeding of the existence or non-existence of every fact in issue and of such other facts as are hereinafter declared to be relevant, and of no others”.
The EA also defines ‘facts in issue’ in the following manner:
“One fact is said to be relevant to another when the one is connected with the other in any of the ways referred to in the provisions of this Act relating to the relevancy of facts”.
As for relevant facts, the EA provides a list of situations where facts would be deemed to be relevant, located from sections 6 to 57 of the EA.
For instance, section 6 reads:
“Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places”.
What Types of Evidence are Admissible?
Evidence can be adduced in the following forms, subject to certain qualifications:
- Documentary evidence, including witness statements;
- Oral testimonies;
- Real evidence – such as items and articles like a murder weapon;
- Sound and video recordings; and
- Electronic records and computer printouts.
Judicial Discretion to Exclude Evidence
In the decision of Muhammad Kadar v PP, the Court of Appeal established that the court has the discretion to exclude any evidence that has more prejudicial effect than probative value.
Weight to be Accorded to Evidence
Just because a piece of evidence has been admitted does not mean that it proves with absolute certainty a particular fact. The judge will accord the appropriate weight on a piece of evidence. Less weight may be accorded if, for instance, a witness is unreliable.
The general rule is that evidence unlawfully obtained is admissible as long as it is relevant. For instance, drilling a hole into a hotel room to record the adulterous activities of a cheating spouse would land you in trouble with the law (trespass, damage to property, outraging a woman’s modesty etc.), but it is still possible for the recording to be admitted as evidence to support a divorce application on the basis of adultery.
Hearsay evidence, which refers to the assertions of persons made out of court” whether orally or in documentary form or in the form of conduct tendered to prove the facts which they refer to (i.e. facts in issue and relevant facts) are inadmissible unless they fall within the scope of the established exceptions in the EA. These exceptions are mainly found in sections 32 to 40 of the EA.
Similar Fact Evidence
In criminal cases, similar fact evidence refers to the acts of the accused on occasions other than the one which gave rise to the offence charged. Such acts are often relied upon by the prosecution by virtue of their similarity to that offence, to prove the guilt of the accused.
Similar fact evidence is usually admissible under sections 14 and 15 of the EA, but is subject to judicial discretion to exclude evidence that is more prejudicial than probative.
In most cases, statements supplied by a client to his lawyer are privileged. These statements are confidential and cannot be used as evidence in court unless the client waives his right to privilege. Such a rule serves to protect the client and encourage him to be honest with his lawyer.
However, communication made in furtherance of an illegal purpose, or any fact observed by any advocate or solicitor in the course of his employment as such showing that any crime or fraud has been committed since the commencement of his employment, are not privileged information.
In civil cases the fact that the character of any person concerned is such as to render probable or improbable any conduct imputed to him is irrelevant, except in so far as such character appears from facts otherwise relevant.
In criminal proceedings, the fact that the person accused is of a good character is relevant.
Additional rules as to character evidence exist – this category of evidential rules can be mainly found in sections 45A, 54 to 56, 122, 147, 148, 150, 151, 155, and 157 of the EA.
The general rule is that the witness can only give evidence on perceived facts. He is not entitled to offer his opinion, because it is unreliable, except in certain circumstances, such as where an opinion is given as to certain public rights or customs or matters of general interest. The exceptions are mainly set out in sections 47 to 53 of the EA.
Opinions of experts are generally admissible, on the premise that the expert’s opinion is sufficiently relevant, and will help to advance the court’s inquiry into the facts. We have another article covering expert witness evidence in greater detail.
Please note that the above does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please refer your matter to a lawyer where necessary.
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