Friday, 17 August 2018

WHAT’S YOUR SIDE OF THE STORY?

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Your story, determines exactly how your case will turn out in Court because it is the foundation upon which your case is built.
Working in a law firm has helped me learn how cases come together from the commencement stage to when the parties, representatives and witnesses have to be present in Court to orally state or defend their cases. Many things are involved in the process. In fact, it may be argued that more work is done outside of the courtroom than inside the courtroom. There are so many details required to be put together to ensure that there is a good case to either commence or defend. Your side of the story has to add up or else, your case will fall flat on its face. Evidence is a crucial part of this process putting together everything that needs to be available to make or defend your case.

Your side of the story determines exactly how your case will turn out in court because it is the foundation upon which your case is built. You may tell your story orally, in written form or by being more explicit – by bringing actual physical elements involved in your story.
Types of Evidence required in proof of a case
  • Oral evidence
  • Written/Documentary evidence
  • Real evidence
In a regular suit instituted in court, these types of evidence are not mutually exclusive. In some cases, each type of evidence may be employed in each party’s quest to prove the facts put forward by him/her. A classic example may be seen where there is a dispute as to who owns a piece of land and the boundary demarcating a piece of land from another. In such a case, documents showing any transfer of said land or showing that a party bought the land from another will be tendered all in a bid to prove ownership of the land. A survey plan showing the boundary of the land may also be tendered in evidence. Also, witnesses that were present when the piece of land was being conveyed from one party to another may be present in court to orally testify as to their presence on said date and what transpired on that day. They may even be in Court to testify to the effect that the documents showing ownership were signed in their presence. In order to know the exact boundary of the land in question and in addition to verifying that a certain state of affairs exists on the disputed land, the Court may also need to physically visit the land. This is called a visit to the locus in quo.
 
In this post, more emphasis will be laid on oral evidence of witnesses in Court. How exactly is this done in Nigerian Courts? It is usually advised that witnesses to give oral evidence in Court be prepared by Counsel in order to ensure that there is a systematic flow in line with the facts of the case as stated by the party. In light of this, oral evidence as given in Court by witnesses, will be considered.

The Nigerian Evidence Act provides that before a person gives a testimony in a Court of Law, he/she must first be sworn on oath or affirm as the case may be. This is why ordinarily, in Nigerian courts, you may hear the court registrar reading out the oath to the witness who repeats after him and swears by a Bible or Quran. Where the witness had previously been sworn on oath but the matter was adjourned for whatever reason, the witness need not take the oath again upon continuation of the trial of the case. He is just asked if he remembers that he is on oath. If he responds positively, the trial continues.

Inasmuch as oath-taking is important at the commencement of the examination of the Witness, there are exceptions where witnesses will not be sworn on oath, yet allowed to testify in court. The exceptions are:
  • Where a witness states that taking any oath whatsoever is against his religious beliefs.
  • Where the court believes that by virtue of the fact that a witness has no religious belief, he cannot be sworn on Oath.
It is pertinent to note that the forgoing reasons are not automatically tantamount to the evidence of such witnesses being received. The court is still entitled to exercise some discretion. Therefore, the Court may receive such evidence if it considers it just and expedient to do so. Where the court is unsatisfied as to the fairness and expediency of receiving such evidence, it may not receive such evidence.
 
There are also cases where a Witness may have been duly sworn on Oath but may want to contend that at the time of taking the Oath he had no religious belief. This does not in any way affect the validity of the Oath he has taken.

Where a child under the age of 14 is a witness in court, the child shall not be sworn on oath or be made to affirm but shall be allowed to give evidence in court if the court believes that he has sufficient knowledge to justify giving his evidence and he understands what it means to speak the truth.

It should, however, be noted that where the sole evidence admitted by the court is that of a child under 14, it is not enough to convict a defendant of an offence unless that evidence is further corroborated by some other substantial evidence which implicates the defendant. In other words, the unsworn testimony of a child under 14 years is not self-sufficient to convict a defendant of an offence.
 
 
**Affirmation: A pledge equivalent to an oath but without reference to a supreme being or to “swearing”.[1]

[1] Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition,

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