5 Basic Rules of Evidence under the Indian Law

rules of evidence

This is a guest post written by Anurag Tiwary, a fourth-year student of Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Vishakhapatnam.

What is Evidence

We, humans, make a lot of assertions, claims, and allegations against each other almost as a routine. We do this as part of living our normal lives. We are also naturally tempted to prove what we claim or propose. Proving oneself often requires support from what is known as “evidence”. That’s where rules of evidence come into the picture. In this article, we will understand the five basic rules of evidence under the Indian Law.

The fight on the Football Ground

Remember in school when someone got violent on the football ground with you and argued that it happened in the course of the game (a clear lie!!!). You knew it was intentional and personal.

What would you do?

You would go and complain to the Principal.

The principal would then call the other players present on the ground at the time when the incident took place. They would then testify and state the fact as to what transpired on the ground and whose mistake it was.

Many a time, the statement given by your Physical Trainer or your Sports Co-ordinator mattered a lot in who was to be punished and whether there would be a punishment at all. 

All of the above are considered as “evidence”.      

What is Evidence in Law

Evidence before a court work in an almost similar fashion.

Laws, of course, have their share of complications, but the fundamentals remain the same as they did on the football ground and before the Principal while one was initiating or facing disciplinary action.

In a court, both sides would present their evidence. Witnesses from the football ground would be called before the court and your Sports Co-ordinator would be called as an Expert Witness (someone who will again have a greater value than other witnesses before a court, exactly like he had before the Principal).

Kinds of Evidence

There are several kinds of evidence that can be presented before a court.

They could be documentary, testimonial, expert evidence, dying declaration made by a victim before their death, digital evidence, real evidence (tangible things), etc.

There is a long list of types of evidence in law.

On the football ground for instance, if the game was being recorded, the digital record copy of the game could serve as digital evidence. An apology letter written by your friend who attacked you on the ground could serve as documentary evidence.

This brings us to today’s topic – Rules of Evidence under Indian Law.

What are Rules of Evidence and how have they developed

Rules of Evidence are followed by parties to a civil/criminal proceeding when they present their evidence before a court of law. For the court to reach a fair and a just decision these rules are key. Rules of evidence are developed over centuries and have their roots in the common law tradition. Most of them, therefore, remain as non-codified law.

Purposes of Rules of Evidence

Rules of evidence have two broad purposes.

Firstly, Rules of Evidence are supposed to be just to both parties. They are supposed to be non-prejudicial towards ether of the parties to the proceeding and are supposed to achieve a just result by harmonizing competing interests before the court.

Secondly, Rules of Evidence are developed to ensure certainty and uniformity to the case. With different cases of different nature under different statutes popping up before the courts daily, it is these rules of evidence that remains the same. They are supposed to be generally followed in usual circumstances.

Below mentioned are five key rules of evidence followed by courts in India in usual and most circumstances.

Here we go!!!

basic rules of evidence
The evidence must be Relevant, Material, and Admissible

Relevancy is shown when the evidence produced is related directly to the issues raised by the parties. If the evidence proves or substantiates on a certain issue raised before the court and weighs towards the claims made, it becomes a relevant piece of evidence.

For the evidence to be Material, it must prove a fact that is claimed by either of the parties. The difference between Relevant Evidence and material Evidence is that while the former is directly related to the case the latter isn’t directly related to the case, but it does prove something that is pleaded as a fact before the court.

For example, if someone argues that it was raining on the day of the murder, a witness testifying that it wasn’t raining or the Meteorological department testifying that it wasn’t raining on the day of the incident becomes material evidence if one is to question the character or truthfulness of the witness who stated otherwise before the court. 

For the evidence to be Admissible, it must meet certain traditional requirements of reliability. It must be competent and must have a logical basis to be presented before the court. The evidence must be related to the issues before the court, must have a legal basis, and should be logically coherent.

The Best Evidence Rule

According to the best evidence rule, the court always prefers the parties to present before the court ‘primary evidence’ or the ‘best proof’ of their claims and not the ‘secondary evidence’.

The court prefers evidence shown by way of a record or in other words a documentary proof rather than testimonial evidence by a witness. It is presumed in law that if there is a document on record then it is akin to the intention of the parties and nothing, but the document will prevail. Documentary evidence is more certain, more reliable, and therefore a better source for the court to arrive at a certain conclusion.

Oral evidence requires corroboration for its admissibility and therefore it is categorized under secondary evidence and not primary evidence.

Take the example of fight on the football ground.

Let’s assume your friend apologized to you in a letter accepting his mistake and you still want to initiate action against him – the letter would serve as ‘best evidence’ and would carry more weight than the oral evidence by a witness. In case the game was being recorded, then the video recording would also serve as primary evidence.

Let’s take another example.

In a breach of contract case, the court would certainly prefer the written contract to be produced as a document and not a witness who could testify as to the contents of the contract. The document in this instance is the “Best Evidence” or primary evidence and the statement made by a witness as to the contents of the contract is secondary evidence. 

The Rule against Hearsay

Hearsay evidence is evidence, not by an eyewitness, but by someone who heard something from somebody else. It is a general rule that any Oral Evidence must be direct and must be presented before the court by a witness who has perceived it by his senses and not heard it from someone else. The court excludes hearsay evidence and categorizes it as an inadmissible piece of evidence. Hearsay evidence is regarded as weak and often can restrict legal investigation.

In the football ground case, hearsay evidence by one of your classmates who weren’t present on the ground and didn’t see the incident himself but heard it from someone else, will be inadmissible.

The Burden of Proof

The rule on the burden of proof essentially states which of the parties before the court has the burden to prove their claim.

This rule is different in a criminal proceeding to that of a civil Proceeding.

In a criminal proceeding, the rule is that the burden of proof is on the prosecution who has to prove the case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. The accused in a criminal trial is presumed innocent until proven guilty and therefore the prosecution has the burden to prove it otherwise before the court. So, it is the prosecution’s burden to produce evidence before the court that can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In the fight that happened on the football ground, the burden to prove the case, based on this rule, will be upon you who accused me of tripping you up.

Whereas, in a civil proceeding the principle is “he who claims must prove”. This rule of evidence suggests that in a civil proceeding if a party to a case claims a certain fact or the existence of a certain fact then the claimant must provide evidence to that effect before the court to prove the same.

One thing to remember is that burden of proof shifts when the party who had the burden in the first place has discharged it.

Rule on Circumstantial Evidence

A circumstantial evidence is an evidence that helps the court to draw a particular conclusion based on inferences. The inferences are drawn from various sets of facts that connect to the issues raised before the court and helps the court in reaching a decision.

Circumstantial Evidence is often referred to as ‘indirect evidence’. Now, as this may sound, it is very difficult to prove. Unless it is hardly contested and proved beyond all reasonable doubt, it is not accepted by the court.

So, if one doesn’t have evidence that proves the guilt or the innocence of the parties to the case, they may rely on circumstantial evidence to prove their case. However, they must remember that it must be shown by a chain of causation or a free flow of reasonable inferences that could be drawn before the court.

Such inferences must be looked into cumulatively and not in isolation. There must be no contradiction in the circumstances that could lead to two different sets of conclusions. 

For example – Arun and Rakesh engaged in a heated argument where Arun declares in front of a room full of people that he will kill Rakesh. Rakesh was found dead in his apartment a week later. This indirect evidence certainly doesn’t prove the guilt of the accused, but it does give the police and the court a suspect. Circumstantial evidence usually demands corroboration.

basic rules of evidence under Indian Law

So those are the five basic rules of evidence law under Indian Law. Hope you got a good idea from this article written by Anurag. Please leave a comment if you have any question or feedback.

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