Evidence Law

In both criminal and civil proceedings, the law of evidence has a number of purposes. However, due to the different nature of civil and criminal cases, the rules applicable on them may be different. The civil case is one instituted by individual for the purpose of securing redress for a wrong, which has been committed against him, and if he is successful he will be awarded money or other personal relief. While, a penal prosecution is instituted by the government for the purpose of securing obedience to its laws by the punishment or correction of the lawbreaker. Therefore, since the relief sought as well as the purpose of instituting civil and criminal cases is different, the existence of difference regarding the strict nesses of the evidentiary rules applicable on those two cases seems proper.

Generally, the purpose of evidentiary rules is to assist the court in establishing the truth between the party's conflicting versions of the fact in the case. However, in criminal cases the law of evidence has further important purpose, that is, the protection given to the accused in respect to his right to a fair trial. The protection of the accused against the case being proven against him by evidence which is prejudicial to his right to afar trade is one of the main reasons why the law of criminal evidence contains so many rules which excludes potentially relevant evidences from being produced before the court including, for example, the general rule that evidence of the defendant's bad character or his previous convictions will not be admitted at trial, (see art 138 of cr.p.c) different privileges given to witnesses.. etc . The court may also exercise its discretionary power to support the defendant's right to a fair trial by excluding potentially relevant evidences.

While in civil proceedings, evidence that is relevant and probative of a fact, which needs to be proved to the court, will generally be admissible. There are no mandatory rules requiring the exclusion of evidence in civil cases. This state of  affairs reflects the key difference between civil and criminal proceeding. Therefore, we can say that the fair trial provision is not as important in civil case as there is a greater equality in resources between the parties in contrast with criminal proceedings in which the power full government in one side and the weaker accused on the other side are there. Also, whilst losing civil case may result in the claimant or the defendant suffering serious damage to his financial resources or property, he will not loss his liberty life or suffer the same social stigma as a person who has been convicted of criminal offence. This is reasons why, there is huge difference regarding the standard of persuasion required in civil and criminal cases.

The main difference regarding evidentiary rules in civil and criminal cases lies on the required standard of proof. The rules relating to the standard of proof determines how much proof is required for a party to persuade the court. The appropriate standard of proof that will have to be satisfied in a criminal case is heavier than in a civil case. In criminal proceeding, the public processor in order to win the case, he is required to proof, beyond reasonable doubt. While in civil case the standard is preponderance of evidence or probabilities.

The “beyond reasonable doubt” standard is constitutionally mandated in criminal cases. However, “beyond reasonable doubt” means that you must be virtually certain. The law does not demand that, for you to find the defendant guilt, you be absolutely certain of his guilt, because there are few, if any, things in life we can be absolutely certain about. Here, one may raise question that applying such strong standard in criminal   cases may prevent the truth from being discovered in the wide public interest. However, we all know that guilty people may escape criminal punishment. A criminal might not be apprehended, if apprehended, he might not be tried, if tried, he might be acquitted. We are not happy about this situation, but it is an every day matter that we tolerate. But consider how troubling- and how noteworthy- we find it on those rare occasions where we punish somebody for a crime that it turns out later, he did not commit.

The standard of persuasion in civil case may be highly variable, depending on the nature of precise issue at stake. For instance, among 4 witnesses, if 3 of them testify in favor of the party on a given issue, we can say that the standard required in civil case has fulfilled. Because the testimony of those 3 witnesses over weighted the testimony of one witness who testified against the party.  

Who has a burden of proof in criminal and civil proceedings?

The general rule in criminal cases is that the prosecution bears the burden of proving the defendant's guilt and the substantive law defines what the prosecution must prove in order to convict the defendant. This will usually comprise elements of the mens rea and actus reas, for example, when pursuing conviction for theft, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the offense as laid down by the Criminal code (namely a dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive).

The allocation of the legal burden of proof on the prosecution is regarded as fundamental expression of the presumption of innocence. Because every one charged with criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. It also reflects an aspect of procedural fairness in that the prosecution has considerably more resources at its disposal than the defendants and therefore it should bear the burden of proving the accused guilt. A Practical consequence of the prosecution bearing the legal burden of proof is that the prosecutor always opens the case at trial and presents its evidence first. In discharging its burden the prosecution must disprove any defense or explanation raised by the accused.(see Art 136 of cr.p.c)

Whilst the rules of civil evidence do not incorporate the same enshrined principles as in criminal case (i.e. the accused in a criminal trial is presumes innocent until proved guilt by the prosecution), the well established general rule about the incidence of the legal burden of proof in civil proceedings is that ''he who asserts must prove”. To put simply, the legal burden of proving a fact in issue in a civil trial is on the party that asserts that fact. Therefore, in civil cases, the burden of proof first lies in the plaintiff. However, this burden of proof will shift to the defendant if the defendant admits the allegations and come up with positive deface like “counterclaim”. In such case, the burden of proof lies on the defendant (see Art 258 of civ.P.C ).

We have discussed the main differences existed between civil and criminal proceeding regarding evidence i.e. on burden and degree of proof. However, there are also another differences. Now we will discus such other differences in line with our evidence rules shortly.

1. Less importance is attached to the principle of orality in civil proceedings, resulting in far greater reliance up on the admission of evidence in documentary form. Because in civil cases, most of the claims are raised from contractual, monetary or proprietary relation ships which could mostly proved by adducing documentary evidences. While due to the very nature of ways of committing a crime, the public prosecutor mostly proves his allegation by providing an expert and lay witnesses. And the crime, which could be proved by documentary evidences, is less in numbers since they are being committed in a more sophisticated way.

2. There is also a difference between civil and criminal proceedings regarding proof by admissions. Firstly, in civil cases, the defend ant shall deny each and every fact alleged by the statement of claim specifically. [see Art 83 of civ.p.c]. And every allegations of fact in the statement of claim, if not denied specifically or by necessary implication, or stated to be not admitted in the statement of defense, shall be presumed admitted and the court shall give judgment on such admitted facts. (see Art 242 of civic).While in criminal cases, where the accused says nothing in answer to the charge, a plea of not guilty shall be entered. This means the silence of the accused of the accused does not amounts to admission.(see Art 27, and 134(1) of civ.p.c]. Moreover, failure to cross-examine on a particular point does not constitute an admission of the truth of the point by the opposite party. [See Art 140 of cr.p.c]  

Secondly, in civil proceedings, where a party formally admits the truth of a fact in issue in the case, the fact ceases to be in dispute between the particles, and as such any evidence to prove the fact will be ruled as inadmissible on the ground that it is irrelevant. To put in another way, judicial admissions are conclusive in civil cases. And the courts are under obligation to give judgments based on such admission without requiring the production of additional evidences. (see Art 242 of civ.p.c).While in criminal cases judicial admissions are not conclusive. Of course, when the accused admits without reservations every ingredient in the offence charged, the court shall enter a plea of guilty and may forthwith convict the accused. However, the court may require the prosecution to call such evidence for the prosecution, as it considers necessary and may permit the accused to call evidence. (see art 134 of cr.p.c). There fore, unlike civil cases, in criminal cases the task of determining the conclusive nesses of judicial admission is left to the discretion of the court.


Why judicial admissions are not conclusive in criminal cases?


In criminal cases, the issue may be the question of life and death. So the court shall take a due care that an innocent person not to be convicted and punished. So that, the courts are expected to critically examine the reasons behind of the confession. Because sometimes innocent person may admit the commission of crime to cover another person, for fame or to be known through out the world by his criminal act.

Thirdly, in criminal cases, admission shall be made without reservation. When we say the accused admitted, we are saying that he admitted each and every criminal elements of the alleged offence usually comprise elements of the mens rea and actus reus . However, in civil proceedings the party may admit the truth of the whole or any part of the case of the other party. For instance, the plaintiff has instituted suit against the defendant on breach of contract for the value of 10,000 birr. Here, the defendant may admit half of the plaintiffs claim and deny the rest. In such case, the issue (the point of disagreement) lies only on the non-admitted claims of the plaintiff and the court shall give judgments on the admitted amount in accordance with Art. 242 of civ-p.c.

The above discussed differences between civil and criminal proceedings are not the only differences. You will come across with further differences throughout your study of this course.  

Classification of Evidence

Evidence can directly or indirectly lead to the required conclusion as to whether a disputed fact exists or not. Thus, evidence is divided in to two: direct and circumstantial.

If believed, direct evidence establishes a fact in issue directly. A fact in issue is something a party alleges to exist and the other party denies this is the disputed fact, which can only be resolved by the help of evidence.

Direct evidence is provided by witnesses giving oral testimony of something they perceived with their own senses. It is also afforded by the presentation of documents, photographs and the like which the judge is required to interpret with his senses and includes the physical presence of witness in the witness box giving rise to an assessment by the judge of the witness’s credibility. It can include any incriminating admissions by a party in the case.  

However, circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence that tends to establish a conclusion by inference. It doesn't directly tell you or prove the existence or non-existence of the alleged or disputed fact. But when you put them together, they form a chain leading to a logical conclusion. For this reason, criminal cases built entirely on circumstantial evidence are the most difficult to prove the required standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Circumstantial evidence requires the judge to draw generalizations from commonly held assumptions about human nature. In a murder case for example, evidence that a defendant lied to the police about his where about of the relevant time and had a violent argument with the victim some days before the killing would constitute relevant circumstantial evidence of the accusede's guilt. The inference is based on the common assumption that murderers normally have a motive for committing murder and will usually cover their tracks by lying.  


Can a wrong inference be made form circumstances?


Since most of offences are being executed in a very sophisticated manner, it is difficult to get direct evidence. In such case, the option we have is, proving the disputed fact by circumstantial evidence. However, there is a possibility of making wrong inferences form such circumstances. For instance, in a murder case, if you consider the footsteps alone, it can be the footsteps of any one from the victim's house. And also it does not mean that anyone who buys piston or knife has an intention to kill a person.

Thus, circumstances should be taken cumulatively and not in isolation of one from the other. Where the facts are put together, they lead to a certain logical conclusion. The circumstances should not be self-contradicting that is some consistent with the innocence of the accused and others consistent with his guilt. If they contradict, their capacity to prove decreases with the increase of the contradiction. That is why; we have said that the court must be careful when it gives a ruling on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

The development of the Ethiopian evidence rule is traced back to the ancient days Fitha-Negest, the document which governs the spiritual and secular life the society before the enactments of modern codes. The document contains many provisions dealing about proof and means of proof, for instance it stressed the importance of man's oath in court and prevented parties and their kinsmen and close relatives from testifying. Moreover, it stresses the value of witnesses and contains its own hearsay rule. There is, there fore, a tradition of oral evidence in the ancient Ethiopian system.

However, since the application of Fitha negast was limited to Christian highlands, different traditional meanness of proof like Afersata ,lebashai ,waqif sera  had been in use etc until the enactment of the modern codes in different parts of the country . And later on the drafters have tried to reflect the sprits of those customary practices and ftha negast in those modern codes.  

Do you think Ethiopia has a separate mode of evidence?

You have to take note of the fact that up to now (Until the time of the preparation of this material) we in Ethiopia do not have a separate and codified law of evidence. Rather our evidentiary rules are found scattered throughout our substantive laws such as the criminal law, private laws you find in the civil code, commercial code, etc and adjective laws mainly the criminal procedure and the civil procedure. This here and there scattered evidence rules enables the Ethiopian evidence system to share both civil law and common law features.

Since our substantive laws are adopted from civil law legal system, considerable code emphasis is placed on the value of documentary evidence to include provisions for register and acts of notoriety, which is mainly the feature of continental approach. Moreover, since our substantive laws are adopted from the civil law legal system, we have a number of evidence rules scattered throughout our substantive laws like the Articles on proof of marriage, proof of will, proof of contract, proof of ownership and a lot of legal presumption which relate to evidence.

There are also common law features to the present Ethiopian evidence system. Since our procedural laws are adopted from the common law legal system, the method of presentation of evidence envisaged by the civil and criminal procedures is very much of the common law method of presentation of evidence. The common law features, for instance, cross-examination and impeachment of witnesses, objection to and rulings on admissibility of evidence and the like are included in our procedural laws. Therefore, we can say that, the present day Ethiopian evidence system is the hybrid of civil law and common law features.  

However, this here-and-there scattered evidence rules are far from being complete. There are gaps in statutory evidence provisions, which allow for a great deal of judicial discretion. This means, in order to fill the existing gaps, the courts are using those internationally accepted rules evidence in their day-to-day activities. For instance, many of the principles of the draft Rules of 1967 (DER) have been in use in our courts without citing them as a law since they are not yet ratified by the law-making organ of the country. This is not by accident but it is necessitated by the fact that our procedural laws required the implementation of some of the principles of the draft evidence law.

Ethiopians draft evidence rules basically copies the Indian evidence act with certain interesting twists of its own, particularly by way of omission. In Ethiopia, for more than forty years this draft evidence rules have been in use for academic purposes. It is recently accepted that we need to have separate rules of evidence and the preparation of the draft evidence law has already started thus, now it seems that we may have our evidence law in a foreseeable future. Generally, we can classify the present sources of Ethiopia’s evidence rules in to three: -

(i) The evidentially rules which are found scattered through out our substantive, Procedural and other proclamations.

(ii) Modern and internationally accepted principles of evidences have been in use in our courts just to fill the existing gaps found in out substantive and procedural laws. It is believed that, applying such principles of evidence has a great importance in incorporating those modern evidentiary principles in to our judicial custom and in developing the general jurisprudence of evidence in the country.

(iii) Even though the tradition of publishing and distribution of case reports is not as such developed, case laws are also considered as the third source of evidence rules in Ethiopia. This is similar with the common laws precedent system in which the lower courts are bound to follow the decisions of the higher court involving the same question of law or fact.

However, this precedent system does not work on cases involving the same question of facts in Ethiopia. According to Art 2(4) of the Federal Courts' Establishment proclamation re-amendment proclamation No. 454/2005, interpretation of law rendered by the federal Supreme Court cassation bench is binding on federal as well as regional courts of all level. Therefore, if the federal Supreme Court's cassation bench gives decision on question of law, which involves evidence, it shall be bidding on all other courts as a law.

There are two major legal systems (legal traditions) in the world.  

They are (1) The Anglo - American (or the common law legal system). And (2) The continental or the civil law legal system.  

Is there a difference between the two legal systems regarding evidence rules?

Some argues that, it is hard to think of human relation in common law legal system to be completely different from that of the continental system and to be ruled entirely by different legal tradition they follow, the gap narrows. The points, which differential them, may relate to form or emphasis with some respects.  

However, we believed that, it is important to discuss about the existing differences between the two legal systems regarding the different rules of evidence they follow, and the weights they have attached towards different types of evidences and the rational there of. Because, this helps us to critically examine which system provides a means which facilitates conditions for the maintenances of justice in general, and which system goes in line with the purpose of evidence rules to achieve fair, accelerated and economic Justice. Thus, now, we will discuss the existing differences between the two legal systems regarding the approaches of evidence rules they follow by the way of comparison. Through our discussion, we have tried to associate those approaches with the Ethiopian arena.  

(A) Differences regarding the organization of the rule of evidence.              

The countries, which follow the common law legal system, have separate rules of evidence or separate code of evidence law. The rules determine what evidence is admissible and what evidence is not admissible. While, when we come to the law of evidence in the continental system there is no separate code of evidence law. Rules of evidence are sparsely distributed in both substantive and procedural laws.

This may create a question in our mind as to why the civil law legal system did not take the lead in the codification of evidence law since the codification of law characterizes the civil law system more than the common law. 

Why the common law countries took the lead in the codification of evidence law?

It is admitted by almost all authorities that the single main overriding reason for the existence of separate evidence law in common law tradition is the mistrust of Juries.[panels of some 12 men{non lawyers}] .It is widely accepted that most Jurors have little experience in analyzing evidence objectively, and many of them have prejudices that are not easy to suppress .Thus, to control, Jury to objectively analyze evidence, the option was to set rules which help jury regarding evidence.  

However, unlike the Anglo -American legal system in which the law of evidence is directly related to the institution of jury trial in civil as well as criminal cases, the objective of evidence law is less significant to continental system. Because, here there is no fear that relates to jury to compel an independent code of evidence law. They believe that the protection of the individual rights and just and fair determination of issues of fact which the Anglo- American rules of procedure and evidence are designed to serve are equally well secured by a system which places responsibility for decision on professional Judges which personal evaluation is un encumbered by complex and detailed rules.

B/ Difference regarding the sources of evidence rules

Even though the common law countries have a separate code of evidence law enacted by the law-making organ, they have also judge made evidence rules due to the existence of the precedent system. In this system the lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts or by their previous decisions in order to secure the uniform application of the law. In other words, the lower courts are obliged to respect the decisions of the higher courts (on the case of having similar question of fact or law) as a law. Thus, by doing this, the judges have the authority to made laws including evidence rules. So we can say that in common law system there are judge made laws, while in the continental system- laws are enacted by the parliament. Thus, here, the judges are required to follow the decisions of the higher courts.

However, the fact that a question that has been passed before, may be very help full to another court when confronted with the same question. Even in countries where courts are not bound by decisions of the higher court or by their previous decisions, there is at tendency to look to past decisions and frequently to follow them.  

 Do you think Ethiopia follows the precedent   system at present time?  

Actually, at present time, all courts, whether federal or state, are bound to follow the decisions made by the federal supreme courts' cassation bench on question of law. (See Art 2(4) of the Fed courts' proclamation Re-amendment proclamation No 454/20005). There fore, if the federal Supreme Court’s cassation division passed a decision on question of law involving evidence, all other subordinate courts are bound to follow it as a law.

However, this precedent system employed in Ethiopia has certain limitation. In one hand, due to the absence of illustrations, which defines basic error of law, among a number of applications, which seeks review, only few of them have been gotten the chance of being reviewed by the cassation court.

Moreover, even though they have gotten the chance of being reviewed, there is no tradition of publishing and distributing case reports of the cassation through all level of courts in Ethiopia. As a result, the judges (especially of the regional state's judges) might not a warred about decision. And this hinders the application of the precedent system even on question of law.  

Further more, this precedent system on question of law does not exist on the decisions of other courts other than the federal Supreme Court's of cassation bench. For instance, some of the regional supreme courts have their own cassation benches. However, their decisions do not have the effect of precedent. Do you think the subordinate Oromiya courts are bound to follow the decisions rendered by the oromiya supreme court's cassation bench?  

Above all the precedent system does not works on the decisions involving question of facts unlike the common law traditions. There fore, even though the decisions of the federal supreme courts' cassation bench on question of law involving evidence serves as one sources of evidence rules, we can not say that Ethiopia follows the precedent system in its full sense.

C. The difference regarding the system of inquiry 

 The common law countries employ the ''Adversarial system'' of evidence gathering. An adversarial trial provides a forum in which two parties present competing version of the truth. This system is a party-lead system in which the judge has no investigative role. Their function is to listen to the evidence Presented and decide which version of the facts they fell is closest to the truth. Here, judge acts as an impartial umpire, policing the rules of the trial game there by ensuring fair play.

Control in the adversarial process rests with the parties. They have complete auth anomy. For this reason, the role of the advocate in the presentation of evidence can not be underestimated. The court will learn of the facts in the case through the par tie's advocates .The parties' legal representatives collect the evidence and decide what evidence should be presented and how it should be presented.

However, the civil law system employ the ''inquisitorial system'' of inquiry .Here, the court has the task of making inquiry. It question witnesses, directs the police investigation, commissions the service of expert witness and examines all relevant evidences.

In this system, the trial judge plays a far more active role than his adversarial counter part. As the court is charged with the task of making inquiry, the role of the advocate is considerably less important and is largely confined to ensuring his client receives a fair trial by checking that correct law is applied and that procedural rights are respected. Since the witnesses are considered as witnesses of the court, it is the judge who obtains most of the evidence through the process of questioning witnesses. The advocates' questions are restricted to clarifying points and obtaining further in formation.  

Evidence is generally extracted in a more humane and natural manner than that experienced by witnesses in the adversarial system. Witnesses are allowed to give their evidence in uninterrupted fashion although questions will be asked to obtain clarification and to prevent the witness from getting in to irrelevancies. There will also be questions to the witness that seek to challenge his or her credibility. However, it wound be rare to see the type of rigorous, some times aggressive questioning associated with cross-examination in the adversarial system.

Those who defend the adversarial system of justice do so passionately, arguing that it is in fact the most effective vehicle for ascertaining truth about past events. They do so in the belief that it minimizes bias in the inquiry process and that it is likely to unearth more facts and greater information because there are two sides searching for an advantage, motivated by their own self -interest, which is to win.

However, some argue that, in truth no one system of justice is totally adversarial or totally inquisitorial. Many systems are a hybrid of each. What about the Ethiopian system of inquiry?  

(D) The differences on the types of evidences they emphasized

Under common law legal system, the greatest weight and importance is attached to oral testimony of the parties and their respective witnesses. Here, there is clear preference for evidence to be tendered in oral form. Documentary evidence is generally regarded as being inferior to oral evidence. The physical presence of the witness affords the judge the opportunity of observing the witness demeanor. This is perceived as being a useful   indication of a witness's truthfulness. The witness box provides the best place for critical evidence to be tested and challenged in that, aside from the witness's demeanors, it enables external and internal in consistencies and matters going to the witness's credit to be tested. The physical presence of the witness also gives the accused the opportunity of confronting those who accuse him. This is widely felt to be component of the right to a fair trial. Moreover, in oral testimony, cross-examination is regarded as an invaluable tool for laying bare the truth. Because the smallest departure by a witness from his earlier written statement is likely to be used by the cross examining advocate as a weapon with which to attack the witness's credibility. Further more, testimonies are given on oath, the degree of being true is high. That is why the common law countries and their adversarial trial embrace the principle of morality.         

However, in continental law system like in France and Germany, emphasis is laid on written evidence including notary- attested records of every sort of transaction, written formalities, registration etc. There are Registration offices like offices of notary public whose counter part is less common in common law. This makes it self -evident that the continental system lays emphasis on documents. They belief that, documents do not lies and they are easily manageable, and economical to bring them before the court of law. However, in case of witness testimony, it is based on the recollections of different people who witnessed the events with their own senses. Thus, recollection is not always accurate, particularly if the witnessed event was over in a matter of seconds or was committed in circumstances of fear or excitement. Moreover, if the witness's evidence is receives many months after the incident, there would be a risk of loss of memory over time. Not all witnesses give an account based on their honest recollection of event. Bias on the part of the witness or the will to perjure them may result in the court receiving evidence, which is misleading and untrue. Furthermore, it become difficult to get reliable witnesses if they died disappeared or become incompetent due to mental illness. There fore, the followers of the civil law traditions confirms that, due to the above reasons, the contribution of oral testimony for the maintenance of justice is less significant than documentary evidences.  

We are not, however, saying that no written evidence is important in common law nor do we say no oral evidence is important in continental legal system. They exist in both systems but the emphasis each system gives differs.  


(E) Are parties themselves competent witnesses in their own case?          

In common law legal systems, parties themselves are competent witnesses in their own case. Here, the defendant who chooses to plead not guilty puts the prosecution to proof of its case. The defendant is not a competent witness for the prosecution in these circumstances but is a competent witness in his own defense and may therefore choose whether or not to give evidence on oath.

However, in accordance with the general view in civil law system, it is considered best if no one is a witness in his own case. Though the parties usually view the proceedings under dispute from their own angle, they are, all same, interested in the outcome of the litigation, and this often clouds their view of how the incidents on which the court's decision depends have actually taken place. For this reason, a party can not nominate itself as testifying to the accuracy of its assertions. Even in civil law countries, the exclusion extends to third parties, like spouse, relatives and other closely related person's of the party since it is not likely to expect a neutral testimony form such persons.

 Are parties competent Witnesses in their own case, in Ethiopia?  

To determine whether a party is competent witness to his own case or not in Ethiopian context, we have to see it in civil and criminal context. Regarding civil proceeding, Art 261(2) of our civil procedure code provides 'If a party wishes to give evidence on his own behalf, he shall do so before calling his witnesses and he shall then for all practical purposes be deemed to be a witness.' From this, we can understand that parties are competent witnesses in their own case in civil proceedings, and they are considered as witness for all practical purposes. There fore, like other witness, they are required to take an oath before testimony and are also subject to the rule of cross-examination.

However, there is no consensus regarding criminal proceedings as to the question whether the accused person is competent witness to his own case or not.

As we understand from art 142(1) and (3) of our criminal procedure code, after the witnesses for the injured party have been heard, the court shall inform the accused that he may make statement in answer to the charge and may call witnesses in his defense. And if the accused wishes to make a statement, he shall speak first. But the accused is not required to make his statements on oath. Moreover, he may not be cross-examined on his statements even though the court may put questions to him for the purpose of clarifying any part of his statement. Therefore, some argue that, unlike civil proceedings, the accused who made statement on his own behalf under Art 142 of Cr.p.c should not be considered as a competent witness for all practical purpose in the absence of tests of accuracy like cross examination.

However, other argues that even though it is left to the court to determine how much weight shall be attached to the testimony of the accused, there will not be any negative impact on the task of the administration of justice, if the accused become a competent witness in his own case.

According to Art 20 (4) of the FDRE constitution, the accused persons have the right to produce any evidence including his own testimony in his own defense. There fore, we can say that if the accused wishes to produce his own testimony in is own defense, he shall do so.  Since the accused persons have the right to be presumed innocent before conviction, they shall not be prohibited to produce their own testimony in their defense. (see art 20 (3) of FDRE constitution) .However ,what is provided under Art 142(3 )of Cr.p.c should be amended in the manner that enables the prosecutor to cross examine the accused person who testify in his own behalf as it is in civil proceeding under Art 261(3 ) of Civ.p.c .

There fore, even though, from the outset, it seems that there is a difference between civil and criminal proceedings as to whether the parties are competent witnesses to their own case or not, it is important to know that the law does not make difference if we interpret it in line with the constitution.

F/ Is hearsay evidence admissible as a rule?

As we have said earlier, there is much emphasis on oral argument and persuasion in common law legal systems. But when they say oral evidence, they are saying the direct one. The oral evidence must be direct in common law legal systems. Here, there is a rule, which excluded hearsay evidences. Because, in hearsay evidence there is no test of accuracy which enables the opponent party in discerning or checking whether or not the witness is speaking the truth, like cross- examination and physical presence of the real witness since it is the right of the accused to confront his or her accusers.

However, in civil law legal system, there is no general analysis of rules of admissibility of proof. Here, a judge has a discretion to determine the admissibility or otherwise of the evidence by applying his own personal evaluation. Thus, in civil law legal system there is no rule which excludes ''hearsay' evidence. Rather, it is left for the court to decide the value of what has been said. Please read a detailed discussion on rule and exceptions of hearsay evidence under chapter four


Generally, having different approaches regarding evidence in the two major legal systems creates a difference in the cost of litigation required to dispose the case. The litigation in common law legal system like England is substantially more costly than for example, in France or Germany. This is because of the high rate of Advocate's participation in the common law proceeding and their tradition of giving much emphasis to oral evidences. 

Is the need for evidence recent development?

No, it is not. It is possible to imagine that the need for evidence can be traced back to a time when people started to settle disputes before third parties. You can imagine how people settle disputes before elders of a certain locality.

The need for evidence was well known by ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Different concepts of evidence law such as relevancy of evidence, the duty to come up with evidence, proof by witnesses were practiced since ancient time even though they were not in such organized and comprehensive manner.

The present rules and principles of evidences are the outcome of the successive development, conducted in different stages of human civilization. In its very stage of progression, there was no any distinction on the rules of civil and criminal evidence Moreover, the means they use to prove a disputed fact may not be well founded to ensure the rational basis of decision making. In other words, the evidences which were applicable at that ancient time were irrational.          

Generally, we can classify the ancient means of proof in to two: Proof by ordeals and Proof by oath  

As we go back in history, the influence of religion is so strong that it is hardly possible to exclude religious notions. As a result, the above ancient means of proof had practiced for the past many years by using the psychological impacts of religious belief on the society.  

In different parts of the world ordeals were used to identify the person who did wrong. Ordeal is about subjecting somebody to undergo a painful experience like walking on fire, holding glowing with heat, put hands in to boiling water etc..  

The idea is that where a person who underwent the ordeals is not seriously affected like when the wound that resulted from the ordeal normally cures it is taken as a proof of innocence. If it, however, gets infection this is taken as proof of guilt.  

Moreover, there was proof by battle. Here the victim and the accused required to fight to each other. And if the victim wins the accused, the accused will be considered as criminal and convicted. While if the accused wins the victim, the accused will be free.  

Since proof by ordeal were extremely irrational and in human, relatively modern and human means of proof began to replace them immediately after 15th c. This was proof by oath in which the accused/ defendant lad required to take an oath before his testimony in his own case. As we known where religious beliefs are predominant, oath taking plays a great role to prove or disprove the alleged fact. However, this testimony of the accused/ defendant under oath was not sufficient alone. In addition to it, the court required the testimony of supporting witnesses (compurgators) for the purpose of confirming whether the words of the suspect under oath are true or not. However, such compurgators were not required to testify on the merit of the fact rather their testimony was limited in confirming to the court of law about the truthful nesses of the oath given by the suspect. So we can understand that how long the ancient proof by oath differs from the present one.  

Gradually, the above ancient ways of proof had begun to replace by the new and modern concepts of evidence rules. The writing of different scholars, judicial decisions and different laws enacted at different times based on different legal traditions becomes instrumental for the then development of rules and principles of evidence.  

Was there any traditional mechanism of proving alleged criminal acts in ancient Ethiopia?  

In a traditional highland Ethiopia that is in previous times, different methods of proof were applied to ascertain the commission of an act by a suspect. Firstly, the “laeba shai” method was applied to solicit admission from a suspect in the time when it becomes difficult to get witnesses. In this method of proof, a person was made to drink some herbal solution that would intoxicate him and he was left to run amuck and whoever is implicated by this person would be considered as the criminal.  

Later, this “ Leba shai” system becomes replaced by the institution called “ Afersata” or “ awchachigh”. This method involves the participation of the whole community. This seems that since the crime is against the community themselves, the member of the society may detect the crime and the criminal in secret manner, for instance by indicating the name of the criminal through poem.  

However, the methods of proving in “Afersata” and “Leba shai” have their own basic deficiencies. Because, in the first place, the suspects do not have a chance to challenge the veracity or the truthfulness of the evidence in the case of “ Leba shai” .And also, in the case of “ Afersata”, assume haw bad it may be if in every case the whole people aced to be gathered which may hinder the people from doing their day to day activities. 

1. Evidence Law defined

What is evidence law?

Before dealing with “evidence law”, it is important to discuss about the concept of “evidence” in general since evidence and law of evidence are two different things. The word “ evidence” is originated from a Latin term “evidentia” which means to show clearly, to make clear to the sight to discover clearly certain, to ascertain or to prove. Thus, evidence is something, which serves to prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of an alleged fact. The party who alleges the existence of a certain fact has to prove its existence and the party, who denies it, has to disprove its existence or prove its non-existence.  

However, all facts traditionally considered, as evidence may not be evidence in the eyes of evidence law. Rather, evidence is something presented before the court for the purpose of proving or disproving an issue under question. In other words, evidence is the means of satisfying the court of the truth or untruth of disputed fact between the parties in their pleadings.  

Draft Evidence Rules (DER) defines evidence, as “ a means whereby any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is proved and includes statements by accused persons, admission, Judicial notice, presumptions of law, and observation by the court in its Judicial capacity”. This definition may be more than what you think to be evidence. However, even though the kinds of evidences enumerated under Rule 3 of DER are not exhaustive, it failed to cite “documentary evidence” which is considered as one of reliable evidences, especially in civil cases, as one types of evidence. This seems the result of poor drafts' man ship.  

When we come to the meaning of evidence law, different writers defines it according to their own perceptions but with similar messages. The difference is one defines in amore elaborated way while others do not. For instance, Mc. Cormick defines evidence law as “… the system of rules and standards by which the admission of proof at the trial of a lawsuit is regulated” But this definition is not as such very helpful especially to a beginner, because, it fails to incorporate what things are going to be dealt with by the course.  

The title of the course, is the law of evidence. That does not mean only the rules concerning whether a given piece of information is admissible or not, but also such questions as what happens if there is no evidence on a given point? How much evidence, if any must a party introduces to prevent a court from ruling against him on factual proposition? What are the roles of the judge in evaluating the evidence and the like. To this effect, Robert Arthur Melin [here after referred as Melin], have made an attempt to define evidence law in a more comprehensive way. He defined it as follows.

The law of evidence is the body of legal rules developed and enacted to govern:

  1. B.facts that may be considered in court? This is the issue of relevant evidence that one should adduce before the court to support his allegation.  
  2. 1.Facts in issue
  3. 2.Facts relevant to facts in issue
  4. C.The methods of securing consideration of these facts
  5. 1.By proof
  6. i.Real (e.g. documentary, exhibits) evidence
  7. ii.Oral evidence

2. Certain facts, which need not be proved

  1. i.Judicial notice- Facts so notorious as tofacts in public knowledge ,capable of being verified by authoritative texts
  2. ii.Judicial admission (facts admitted in pleadings, at open court, in examination of parties, in testimony etc.)

C. The party that must secure consideration of what facts: This is about burden of proof and degree of proof required to win the case.                    

D. At the Appeal level evidence law can be said deal with the effect of failure to comply with rules in any of the above categories of evidence law (e.g. improper admission or rejection of evidence) Because the decision of the curt regarding the admissibility or non admissibility of evidence may form the subject of aground of appeal where an appeal is logged against conviction, discharge or acquittal [see Art 184(c of cr.p.c]. These errors on the admissibility or inadmissibility of evidence may be reversible or harmless error.

Here that one should ask is that “Does evidentiary errors constitute Reversible error? Most of the time, an evidentiary error alone is not very likely to induce an appellate court to term the error “ reversible” on the ground that the error affected a substantial right of a party. As a general matter, evidentiary reversal is perhaps most plausible, and most Justifiable, when the constitutional rights of a criminal defendant may be at stake or when it appeared to be out come determinative. Otherwise they are considered as harmless error, which was not prejudicial to the rights of the party, and for which; therefore, the court will not reverse the judgment.

When we come to our case, a decision of any court in Ethiopia will not be ripe for cassation unless it shows prima-facie case for the existence of a basic error of law.

And even though there is no illustration of the implications “basic error of law” in general and on evidentiary errors in particular, the experience of the cassation division shows, among others, the cases depict that there is a basic error of law when any court renders a decision or makes ruling. (1) When false evidence is produced against the party (b) by framing an issue which the pleadings or oral arguments of the parties have not raised or (c) by failing to consider an issue the pleadings are oral arguments of the parties have raised and the like (“The cassation Division and the Requirements for Basic Error of law” Muradu Abdo WONBER” law Jour 2nd half-year, January 2008 at P 52-53

To finalize it, the law of evidence in the major legal systems/ i.e., in the common law, civil law or in countries that have a mixed legal system) is the body of legal rules developed or enacted to govern.

Ø  What facts need to be proved and produced to the court

Ø  Which of the parties have the burden of proof

Ø  The required standards of proof to win the case

  The admissibility, creditability, and weight of evidence and other procedural matters as to how the evidence shall be produced before the court of law.


2. Nature of Evidence law


Where is the place of evidence law in relation to other laws?  

It is important to know the place of evidence law in relation to other laws. Laws may broadly be classified in to substantive and adjective. Adjective laws are concerned with the method of presenting cases to court proving them or generally enforcing the rights and duties provided under the substantive laws. While substantive laws, are those that defines rights and duties. This forms the greater part of the law, it would seem that it is more important part, since it defines what rights, privileges and duties one person may have against or owe another. However the rights, privileges and duties that exist under such law will mean nothing unless they can be enforced. This is why adjective law is just as important as the substantive law.  

Law of evidence is categorized under adjective law together with procedural laws, both criminal and civil procedure. Of course some scholars suggested that there will not be any problem if we incorporate rules of evidence as one part of procedural law since they have similar purpose. However, the consensus has been reached in categorizing law of evidence as one part of adjective law for the sake of establishing more effective system of adjudication of cases before the court of law. Although one can see grains of evidence law in procedural laws, their main dealing is with how pleadings can be framed, investigation conducted, evidence collected etc… This does not necessarily make the law of evidence to be part of procedural law.  

There are certain issues procedural laws never address and are left to evidence law. For instance, in the procedural law you did not study about the standard of proof, facts to be proved or need not be proved and the valve to be given to each term of evidence etc. These are left to evidence law therefore evidence law is not strictly speaking procedural law, but shares the commonality with procedural laws in the sense that both are means to the enforcement of the substantive law. Thus, evidence law suitably falls with in the general category of Adjective laws, which deal with the enforcement of the substantive law.  

However, this does not mean that all nations have their own code of evidence, which can be considered as one sect of Adjective law. For instance, as you see later our country Ethiopia does not have evidence code that when you are asked to show. The truth is that our rules of evidence are not put together in a code or proclamation, but are found widely scattered in both substantive and procedural law. You may remember articles on proof of marriage, proof of will, proof of contract, proof of ownership and a lot of legal presumptions that relate to evidence. In this case, the problem that you would face is whether law of evidence is part of procedural or substantive law?

Is law of evidence more of practical course?  

Law of evidence has more of the smell of the courtroom than most law school classes and it offers the opportunity for some court- room type exercises. But it cannot hope to duplicate the reality of the court room. Because the process of proof involves many participants, and it is impossible to regulate each and every action of those participants by the law of evidence unless we interpret the rules in line with purpose of the law of evidence in general and the rational behind of the specific rule in particular.  

One can understand more about the rules of evidence that he knows theoretically when he becomes a practitioner. For instance, it is the duty of the trial judge to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial. He can for example, limit the nature of questioning in cross-examination. And also he may exercise his discretion to exclude evidence if the prejudicial effect of which exceeds its probative value. Thus, the application of judge's discretion to secure the right to a fair trial may differ case to case bases.  

Moreover, the rule of evidence are not applied independently from other factors and do not exist solely as a matter of academic interest and debate. They are a dynamic set of principles which interact with other essential factors in a case including the rule of substantive law, the rule of procedure and the substantive characteristics of many of the participants in the trial. The latter includes the judge's opinions and perception, the skill of the advocates, a party's or witness's demeanor in court, his credibility, criminal convictions and personality traits. All of these factors ultimately come together to provide the bases for the court's decision in the case.  

Therefore, that is why we have said that the course will not try to teach you what you can better learn in practice or in clinical program. Rather, if you participate in a clinical program after your completion of this course you will probably report to your friends that you “learned more about evidence in two weeks in the clinic than in a whole semester in class”


3. Purpose or significance of Evidence law


Evidence is the “Key” which a court needs to render a decision. Without evidence there can be no proof. Evidence provides the court with information. Proving facts through the presentation of evidence means convincing court to accept a particular version of events. Of course, one can search truth even trough violating the constitutional rights of the parties. However, evidences obtained through unlawful means could not contribute for the maintenance of justice in the future. So the process of proof should be regulated by evidentiary rules and principles in order to achieve accelerated, fair and economic Justice.

In both criminal and civil proceedings, the law of evidence has a number of purposes. In short, the law of evidence regulates the process of proof. The rule of civil and criminal evidence, in conjunction with the rules of procedure, establish the frame work for the process of proof and the conduct of litigation, so that a lawyer advising his client or preparing his case for trial or presenting it to the court or tribunal will know what issues his client must prove in order to succeed.  

The law of evidence also has amoral purpose by establishing and regulating the rules relating to the process of proof in proceedings in courts and tribunals. Whilst this moral dimension is important in civil proceedings, it has special currency in criminal cases as it reflects the powerful public interest in bringing the guilty to justice, whilst allowing the innocent to go free. In some cases the rules of evidence may actually prevent the truth from being discovered in the wider public interest.  

Moreover, especially in criminal cases, law of evidence stands to protect the accussed's right to affair trial for instance, by containing many rules which excludes potentially relevant evidences like the general rule that evidence of the defendant's character and previous convictions will not be admitted at trial (see Art 138 of cr.p.c and Rule-145 of DER)  

Is there a consensus on the importance of evidence law in regulating the questions of relevancy?

Even though there is a consensus on the significance of evidence law in shaping the process of proof, there is a dispute on the question whether the law of evidence shall determine which evidence should be produced and which are not i.e. on question of relevancy. Regarding this issue there are two approaches.

According to eminent legal thinkers like Jermy Bentham and William Twining the over all aim if the process of adjudication is the ''rectitude of decision making''. This is achieved by the correct application of substantive law to the true facts in the particular case .In this way; the aims of justice are served.  

Bentham long espoused a utilitarian theory that the best way to arrive at the truth was through an application of “free proof”. It was his considered opinion that a judge could be trusted to reach a factually correct verdict provided all relevant evidence was adduced. In his view, too many rules of evidence and procedure lead to the exclusion of too much relevant evidence, there by diminishing the search for a factually correct truth. Thus he advocated abolition of all laws operating to exclude evidence. Recognizing the need for some restrictions, Bentham felt laws of evidence were needed only to the extent of preventing 'vexation, expense or delay' and not to hamper the judge from finding out the truth of matters by using different tactics and approaches.  

However, the supporters of the second approach argued that it would obviously be undesirable and chaotic if a judge had unlimited discretion as to which evidence should be admitted in a case, and as such, there is clearly a need for there to be ground rules for the admission of evidence so that common standards are applied between all courts and tribunals dealing with the same type of case. Otherwise, the judges may loss their golden time which in return contributes for delay of justice. Therefore, they argued that, in order to give timely and effective justice the role of evidence rules which regulates the question of relevancy is unquestionable. However this does not mean that the judges have no any discretion. In some instances the rule provides for the mandatory exclusion of evidence. In other instances discretion is given to the judge to exclude relevant evidence in circumstances were fairness demands it. But there is no judicial discretion to include relevant evidence, which might nonetheless have a bearing on the search for the truth, but which has to be deemed inadmissible by applying a rule of evidence.  

As we shall see a number of rules relating to admissibility and use of evidence are directed towards minimizing the risk of wrongful convictions. And the main risks of error stem largely from the admission of unreliable or prejudicial evidence. Thus this concept of free proof may allow the court to admit unreliable or prejudicial evidence, which lead it to a hasty conclusion.

The concept of free-proof also ignores the fundamental importance of procedural rights and the symbolic importance of trials. Verdicts of the court to have amoral legitimacy, trials must uphold basic human and constitutional rights. And Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. That is why most trials are held in public. That means the public must have a faith in its criminal Justice system and the verdicts that are delivered by it and this can only be the case if the trial is perceived to be a fair one. And respect for procedural rights through evidence law is a key component of the right to a fair trial.