Hearsay Evidence: Admissibility and Objection of It in Singapore
Evidence is crucial in any case you pursue. Regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a case, you will need to present evidence for your case. A typical form of evidence would be witness testimonies.
However, not every and all kinds of testimonies can be admitted in court.
Hearsay evidence is one such kind of inadmissible evidence. This article discusses what hearsay evidence entails and its admissibility in the Singapore courts. It will cover:
What is Hearsay?
Normally, when a witness testifies in court, he is recounting his personal recollection and experiences.
Sometimes, a witness may instead recount what he heard from someone else as evidence. The witness may also give testimony about what someone else had written about, for example, in a note, a letter or an email.
Alternatively, the witness may use someone else’s conduct as evidence –– for example, he may testify about what someone else narrated to him in sign language.
Such evidence is known as “hearsay evidence”. The witness had not actually experienced or witnessed the events but is instead testifying based on what others have communicated to him.
On the other hand, if the witness had actually experienced or witnessed the events concerned, this would not be regarded as hearsay. For example, a witness, John, testifies in court that he himself saw the accused stab the victim or heard the victim scream. This would not constitute hearsay.
It would also not constitute hearsay if John’s friends, his aunt, or his brother were the ones testifying in court themselves as to what they witnessed in relation to the case concerned.
What are Some Forms of Hearsay Evidence?
Hearsay evidence may be:
- Oral: for example, John testifies in court that he heard gossip from his friends that they saw the accused stab the victim.
- Written: John testifies that his aunt wrote to him saying that she heard the victim scream.
- Through Conduct: John testifies that his brother nodded when he asked if Mary stole his wallet.
Is Hearsay Evidence Admissible in Singapore?
Inadmissible evidence cannot be used to prove a fact or a claim in court. The evidence will be excluded when deciding the case. The court will consider only admissible evidence when deciding a case.
Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in court, be it in criminal or civil cases, due to considerations of credibility.
Witnesses in court are under oath to speak the truth, but statement-makers outside the court are not. Yet, hearsay evidence is evidence based on these statements made outside of court. It is more challenging to verify the veracity of these statements. This is because the statement-maker is not the one testifying in court and the opposing party is unable to challenge the statement-maker on the veracity of those statements.
However, hearsay evidence may be admissible if it falls within the exceptions of the Evidence Act (see below).
When Can Hearsay Evidence be Admitted as Evidence in Singapore?
Under section 32 of the Evidence Act, hearsay evidence may be admissible in the following cases: (Do note that a statement would also include an opinion, protest or greeting.)
- Relates to the statement-maker’s cause of death
- For example, there was a question as to whether Mary was raped by A. Mary eventually dies of injuries received in a transaction in the course of which Mary was raped. Statements made by Mary as to the cause of her death, referring to the rape are relevant facts.
- Was made during the statement maker’s business or profession
- For example, the court needs to determine Jane’s date of birth. Medical records written and kept by a deceased surgeon (in the course of his business) which states that he delivered Jane on a certain day may be admissible.
- Is against the interest of the statement-maker
- For example, to the court needs to determine whether person A was drunk when an accident occurred. The statement of the bartender who served person A alcoholic drinks despite knowing that person A is under-aged, may be relevant.
- Is an opinion on a matter of public interest
- For example, John gives his opinion on the expected performance of ministerial candidates at an upcoming Parliamentary election. John works for a research institute that conducts research on the government and related matters. His opinion may be relevant.
- Relates to the existence of a relationship
- For example, there was a question as to whether Tom and Eve were married. A diary entry written by Tom’s father that Tom married Eve on a certain date is a relevant fact.
- Was made in a will or deed
- For example, to the court needs to determine whether Tom and Eve were married. Eve has since passed away. Her will which states that Tom is her husband may be relevant.
- Was made by several persons
- For example, John sued Harry for libel expressed in a printed photo on a poster. The opinions of a crowd of spectators as to the similarity between the poster and its libellous character may be relevant.
- The statement-maker was compelled to but refuses to give evidence
- For example, John is a witness who is compelled to give evidence at a trial, but he refuses to be sworn in court. His statements may still be relevant.
The hearsay rule would also not apply in the following cases, where:
- The statement-maker is dead; or
- The statement-maker is outside of Singapore and it is not practicable to secure his attendance; or
- The parties to the proceedings agreed to admit the evidence.
Nonetheless, the court still has the discretion to reject hearsay evidence that may otherwise be admissible under section 32 of the Evidence Act. The court will do so if it is in the interests of justice so that section 32 is not abused.
According to sections 34 to 40 of the Evidence Act, hearsay evidence may also be admitted in court if the statements are made in certain special circumstances. For instance, statements which:
- Are entries in books of accounts; or
- For example, John sues Mary for $500 and shows entries in his account book that state that Mary owes John $500. These entries are relevant.
- Are made in published maps under the government; or
- For example, a map that is available for sale to the public states that there is a tree next to the River Jun. This statement is relevant.
- Concern any law contained in law books.
- For example, a book is published under the authority of the government. A statement in that book that explains a law of the country is relevant.
How is Hearsay Evidence Raised in Court?
Who may raise hearsay evidence
Hearsay evidence may be raised by any party in court. This includes the parties to the case, the lawyers and even the prosecutors, in the context of a criminal case. For example, person A is called as a witness in a criminal trial and says, “I heard person B say that he saw person C commit the crime”. This would be considered hearsay evidence.
Who may object to hearsay evidence
Any of the parties may object to hearsay evidence. For example, a defendant may repeat certain out-of-court statements given by individuals who did not testify in court.
In this case, the opposing counsel will then raise an objection to the admissibility of these statements on the grounds of hearsay. For example, the opposing counsel may say: “Objection, Your Honour! Hearsay!”.
When an objection is raised, the objecting party indicates to the judge that the evidence is hearsay and should not be admitted.
Who responds to the objection
The party who raised the alleged hearsay evidence will respond to that objection. He may insist that the evidence is not hearsay, or that the hearsay evidence falls within the exceptions of section 32 of the Evidence Act.
Who ultimately allows or disallows the objection
The judge will then rule on the objection. The judge will take into consideration whether there were any facts that suggest that the hearsay evidence had a minimal level of reliability.
Hence, there are two possible rulings.
- The judge may sustain the objection: Here, the judge essentially allows the objection and agrees that the evidence is hearsay and is inadmissible.
- The judge may overrule the objection: In this case, the judge disagrees that the evidence is hearsay and it is therefore admissible.
Ultimately, whether evidence constitutes hearsay and is inadmissible depends on the court’s discretion. The court engages in a balancing exercise between the interests of justice and the veracity of the evidence.
Hearsay evidence involves statements made by individuals who are not testifying in court. Generally, hearsay evidence is inadmissible in Singapore courts and is likely to be rejected by the courts.
If you are unsure whether the evidence in your case constitutes hearsay, or if your case potentially involves a lot of hearsay evidence, you should engage a lawyer. Your lawyer can assist you with assessing the admissibility of your evidence as well as complying with the necessary procedures for admitting such evidence. This may help in ensuring that you have the best available evidence to present your case.
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