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The Law of Evidence: An Introduction | Overview
- Meaning and Definition
- During Ancient India (Hindu Law of Evidence)
- Circumstantial Evidence
- Rules of Evidence under Muslim Rulers
- British India
This article focuses on a brief introduction of the Law of Evidence. The corpus juris or body of laws is generally divided into two types of laws- Substantive laws and Adjective laws. Simply put, substantive laws are those laws which define certain rights and liabilities and adjective laws are those which facilitate the realization of those rights and liabilities. Adjective laws are further divided into procedural laws and the law of Evidence.
Law of Evidence has been recognized as a distinct category because it consists of elements of both substantive as well as procedural law.
Meaning and Definition
In simple terms, ‘Evidence’ can be said to be something that either proves or disproves the existence of a particular fact. Legal argumentation generally involves the assertion of existence of certain facts by either or both the parties to the dispute and subsequently proving or disproving of the same. Thus, it is imperative for the legal system of any State to determine as to what constitutes evidence and whatnot. Several scholars and jurists have attempted to define the term ‘Evidence’.
Taylor’s definition recognizes evidence as a ‘legal means’, apart from simple arguments, which has the potential to determine the truth of a disputed fact. Bentham’s definition has restricted evidence as something that produces a mere ‘persuasion’, which may or may not be affirmative, regarding the existence of a fact. Thus, Bentham has clearly ignored the fact that evidence may even be of a conclusive nature. However, his definition highlighted one important element of the law of evidence- that an undisputed fact or facts may serve as evidence to prove or disprove some other disputed fact.
The Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘Evidence’ as “any species of proof, or probative matter, legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc. for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention.”
A modern and exhaustive definition of the term can be found in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines Evidence as – “––“Evidence” means and includes ––(1) all statements which the Court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses, in relation to matters of fact under inquiry; such statements are called oral evidence; (2) all documents including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court; such documents are called documentary evidence.”
During Ancient India (Hindu Law of Evidence)
According to the Hindu Law of Evidence, proof may be divine or human. While the former refers to trial by ordeals, the latter consisted of witness testimonies, documentary evidence, circumstantial evidence, etc. The importance of the various kinds of evidence depends upon the cause of action as well as the overall subject-matter of the litigation.
A trial by ordeal may be of five types:
- By balance
- By Fire
- By water
- By poison
- By consecrated water
As far as a normal trial is concerned, the rules of evidence may be summarized briefly as follows-
- Witnesses- Oral evidence is supposed to be directly subject to the exception that a witness may communicate what he heard an actual witness say who was either going abroad or was on his deathbed. The competency of witnesses is determined on the basis of their honesty and ability to resist temptation. Based on these parameters certain classes of people such as those practising religion or are of noble birth, etc. are listed as competent witnesses in the dharma sastras. No specific provision regarding the requirement for a specific number of witnesses in any case. The king was a privileged witness who could not be compelled to testify in any case. He had the option to waive the privilege and testify if he finds it necessary to do so in a case.
- Confessions- According to Kautilya, accused persons may be tortured in order to extract the truth from them. However, a conviction which is based on such admission or confession is highly unjust.
- Circumstantial Evidence- The Hindus strongly believed in the importance of circumstantial evidence. However, recognizing the chances of errors, they insisted upon a thorough investigation of surrounding circumstances as well.
Rules of Evidence under Muslim Rulers
The non-muslims (including Hindus) were allowed to follow the tenets of their own religion matters of personal law. However, in criminal matters, Islamic Law was applicable to everyone irrespective of their religious identity. Trial by ordeal was not supported by strict Islamic Law practitioners.
The Hanafi Law understood evidence as:
- Towatur– Fully corroborating evidence
- Ehad– Testimony of a single individual
- Iqrar– admission or confessions
These may be deduced from the testimony of the various witnesses, documents as well as circumstantial evidence which was known as Karinah. Reliance could be placed on circumstantial evidence only if it was conclusive in nature.
During the initial years of the British Raj, the mofussil courts did not follow any particular law on evidence due to the absence of any codified law. However, the presidency courts were following the English rules of the Law of Evidence. The prevailing situation of chaos led to the birth of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which came into force on 1st September 1872.
The legislative intent of the Act has been highlighted in its preamble which reads, “Whereas it is expedient to consolidate, define and amend the law of Evidence, it is hereby enacted as follows”.