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In a dispute, there are always two sides with opposing views on some claim, legal duty or rights. When these views cannot be reconciled, the parties most often end up in a court of law to resolve the matter. The court must receive facts from both parties and their witnesses in order to resolve the issue. The information given, whether oral or written in a case, to prove or disprove an issue, is regarded as evidence.{{more}}

There is a branch of law, the Law of Evidence, that is wholly devoted to evidence in the interest of fairness and consistency. Everyone who appears before the court must observe the laws. The information given by the parties and their witnesses must comply with the rules and principles of the Law of Evidence. Since every one is subjected to the same rules, this allows for fair treatment. The Law of Evidence consists of rules and standards to regulate proof, whenever testimony is given in a hearing or trial. The laws are derived from both common law and statute. In SVG, we are guided by statute, which is applicable in both civil and criminal cases, in the magistrate courts, the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The Law of Evidence has well-established principles and standards to make sure that there is uniformity and predictability in matters before the court. Hence, the information put before the court must be reliable. Not all information put before the court will be accepted into evidence. A court will only receive evidence that is material and relevant. Where the evidence meets the test of relevance and materiality, it will be admissible. To be material, it must relate to the substantial issue in the case and to be relevant it must prove or disprove a material issue. In other words, it must not be irrelevant to the matter. At the same time, the evidence must not violate a rule of exclusion. Evidence could be material and relevant, but not competent because it violates some element that is excluded under the law.

The general rule is that a witness should only testify to those facts to which he or she has personal knowledge. The evidence is generally direct evidence and the opposing party gets the opportunity to cross-examine the witness on the stand. The witness on the stand is always under the threat of perjury, as he is sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Perjury is committed when a person lies before the court.

When a witness on the stand gives evidence, he or she must give information that is related to his senses, such as, what he saw, heard, felt or smelled, not the information that was given by another. The evidence given by the other person would not be reliable. To be admissible in a court of law, the information must come directly from the witness. Hence when a witness testifies that another person told him that Jim entered the building without consent or that the black car crashed into the tree, he is presenting information from the knowledge of another. When it is some other person’s statement, then the court would regard it as hearsay evidence. Certain hearsay evidence is admissible, but it must be within the exceptions stipulated by the law.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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