The term evidence is a bit ambiguous one. It refers to what is adduced by a party in a court proceeding as a means of establishing a fact or its truth. Evidence essentially refers to those items or things that make the truth of a disputed matter quite apparent to a court.
Indian Evidence Act
Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is the law that governs the use of testimony (such as oral or written statements including an affidavit) and physical objects (such as a gun, knife or rod) or other documentary material which is admissible in a judicial proceeding in a court of law, including a quasi-judicial body. It is a procedural law in regard to introduction of evidence in a court. It covers the relevance, admissibility, burden of proof, mode of proof, weight & sufficiency etc of evidence in a legal proceeding.
The act consists of three parts
Indian evidence act has three major parts. The first one refers to the relevancy and admissibility of evidence, the second part is mostly on the types of evidence and the third part is on the burden of providing evidence, so as to prove a matter.
This write up refers exclusively to the first part alone - the relevancy and admissibility of evidence. The relevancy of facts, which is not defined in Indian Evidence Act, is provided from its Sections 1 to 55.
Basic concepts in evidence act
Let us first understand some of the basic concepts the evidence act deals with.
The act stipulates that evidence in a court or judicial proceedings must be given of facts in issue and relevant fact alone. The term fact in issue is a fact about which any right is asserted or denied in a suit in a proceeding of a court, by the contesting parties. That means a disputed material fact is called a fact in issue.
The term relevant fact refers to the connection or relation of a fact with the fact in issue being contested in the suit. When one says one fact is relevant to some other fact, it means that the former fact is somehow connected to the latter one.
Evidence is primarily adduced in the form of either oral statement (deposition of a witness) or as a document (a sale deed). A third kind of evidence is material objects such as a knife or gun or rod used as a tool in a criminal action.
The term document includes a range of things in different forms from a sale deed to a statement of an expert to some inscriptions on stone to an electronic text. It is basically a piece of recorded information that is good enough to express some meaning related to a case in a court. Oral evidence includes the vocal statements made by the witnesses or experts during the trial before the court.
The term proved in connection with evidence means the court believes that fact exists; whereas the term disproved means the court does not believe its existence. But not proved means the existence of a fact is neither proved nor disproved. Therefore proving a fact means persuading a court, in whatever legal means, to believe a disputed fact.
Similarly the term may presume, whenever it appears in a statute or any other legal document, means that the court either may believe or may not believe it, whereas the term shall presume when it occurs means the court definitely believes it.
No evidence required on any unrelated fact
During a trial or proceeding in a court, no evidence is required on any fact which is not related to the fact in issue. However, if a fact is an integral part of a transaction connected with a fact in issue, it can be taken by the court as relevant, even if it is not relevant to the fact in issue in the normal sense.
Concepts of Relevance & admissibility
The concept of relevance is one criterion that governs the admission and use of evidence in a judicial proceeding. If the evidence does not relate directly or indirectly to the issue at hand, it should not be admitted as proof for either the prosecution or the defense. The term relevance in this context simply means that the evidence in question is closely connected or logically related to the matter at hand. Relevant evidence is the evidence that is logically connected to the fact that it intends to establish.
The term relevance refers to the degree of connection between a fact that is given in evidence and the issue to be proved. A fact is relevant when it is so related to the fact in issue.
The term admissibility refers to the process whereby the court determines whether the law of evidence permits that relevant evidence, to be received by the court or not. An irrelevant fact is normally not admissible in the court. However, in certain cases, evidence, which is not relevant, may still be admissible. Basically, the rules of evidence draw a distinct line between relevant & irrelevant facts, and admissible & inadmissible facts.
In a case, all the facts which provide some sort of evidence to the circumstance (occasion), cause and effect of the fact in issue can be taken as relevant. Circumstantial evidence is the kind evidence which tends to prove a fact by proving other events or circumstances from which the fact basically evolved.
If in any fact relating to a fact in issue, a motive or preparation is present, that fact can be taken as relevant. The fact which is necessary to explain any fact in issue is also relevant in a proceeding. Similarly, anything said or done as part of a conspiracy in reference to a common design is also a relevant fact.
If any fact that remains inconsistent with a fact in issue is considered to be a relevant fact even if it remains irrelevant otherwise. An irrelevant fact will become a relevant one if it makes the existence or nonexistence of any fact in issue a reality. In deciding a compensatory claim for damages, any fact including the irrelevant one which is helpful in arriving at the damage, is relevant. When a right or custom is being contested in a case, the related things that created such a right or custom become relevant.
The facts relating to the state of bodily feeling - such as a state of mind - are relevant ones. Similarly, so as to know whether something done is quite accidental or intentional, or done with a particular intention or knowledge, it must be examined whether it forms part of a natural series of closely connected or related events. If any act forms part of a natural transaction of events, one cannot attribute a particular intention in its occurrence. Likewise, the course of a business, such as an instance of sale or an act of mortgage, is relevant if a fact in issue forms part of such a course in a business.
Concepts of admission & confession
Like the concept of relevance, the concept of admission is quite important in law of evidence. The term admission refers to a statement made by a party or his agent who has admitted some sort of liability in a matter in issue, in a court during its proceedings. Admission is a voluntary acceptance of liability. Oral admission in regard to a matter that is heard or seen is relevant. But in regard to the contents of a document including electronic document, oral admission has no relevance at all. That means oral admission regarding the contents of a document cannot be made admissible as evidence to the court. Therefore in order to prove the contents of a document, the document itself need to be produced as evidence.
Confession is yet another term in the law of evidence. An instance of confession made under any sort of coercion, threat or promise is not relevant. But when the threat or promise is removed, the confession made then is relevant.
No extra judicial confession made before a police officer or when the accused is in custody is relevant in a judicial proceeding. A case of confession made by a person under a fair trial for some offence is applicable to all other accused persons involved in the case.
Admission itself is not considered a conclusive proof. But it may operate as estoppel. Statement of a person who is dead is relevant. Likewise, evidence in one judicial proceeding is relevant in another proceeding.
The entries naturally made in a book of account in the course of a business are relevant. Statements in legislative acts or notifications are relevant. Statement in an authoritative law book is relevant. Only statements that are relevant to a fact in issue are needed when they form part of a series of transactions.
Any previous judgment is relevant to a subsequent suit. Judgments on a matter of public importance are relevant but on probate, insolvency etc., they are not relevant. However, when a judgment is not related to a fact in issue, it is not relevant to the case. And a collusive judgment is also not relevant if the collusion is proved by the other party.
Relevance of expert opinion
Expert opinion is relevant in a judicial proceeding. But irrelevant facts become relevant, if they do not go consistent with the expert opinion. Opinion on handwriting is relevant when the court has to find out whether any person has written or signed in a disputed document produced in a case. Opinion of a person knowing the custom is relevant if the disputed issue is existence of a custom. Opinion of a person knowing the relation is relevant when such a relation is a fact in issue.
The ground of an opinion in an expert opinion is relevant in a proceeding. In civil cases, character is wholly irrelevant except when in deciding damages. In criminal cases, previous good character is relevant but previous bad character is not at all relevant.
Whether a fact is relevant or not is more or less a question of fact to be decided by the judge based on his/her discretion whereas whether it is admissible or not is a question of law mostly dependent on the statute in force then.
All relevant facts may not be admissible, but all admissible facts are relevant. Relevancy is based on logic, but admissibility relies on the laws in force then. A fact may be logically relevant to a particular case. But that fact must be legally admissible if it has to be admitted as evidence in a court. So the items of evidence that would come before the court must be both logically relevant and legally admissible, simultaneously.