Relevancy & Admissibility in Indian Evidence Act

The Sections 1 to 55 of the Indian Evidence Act enlists the definitions of some basic terms, and what kinds of evidence are relevant and admissible in a judicial proceeding.

What the term evidence means

The term evidence is a bit ambiguous one. It refers to what is adduced by a party in a court in order to establish a fact or its truth. Evidence essentially refers to those things that make the truth of a disputed matter quite evident or convincing to a court.

Evidence must be on facts & facts in issue

The act stipulates that evidence in a court must be given of facts in issue and relevant facts alone.

The term fact in issue is a fact about which any right is asserted or denied in a suit in the proceeding of a court, by the contesting parties. That means a fact in issue is a fact about which a dispute exists.

Relevant facts

The term relevant fact refers to the connection of a fact with the fact in issue which is being disputed in the court. When one says one fact is relevant to some other fact, it means that the former fact is somehow connected to the latter.

Oral & documentary evidence

Evidence is adduced in the form of either oral statement (deposition of a witness) or as document (a sale deed). A third kind of evidence is the 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. It differs from a sale deed to a statement of an expert to some inscriptions on stone to an electronic text. It is a piece of recorded information. It expresses some meaning.

Oral evidence includes the vocal statements made by a witness or an expert during the trial before a court.

Proved, disproved or not proved means

The term proved means the court believes in the existence of the fact. The term disproved means the court does not believe its existence. The term not proved means the existence of a fact is neither proved nor disproved. Whenever such a term is used one should understand its meaning in that way.

In short, the term proving a fact means persuading a court to believe a fact in a dispute which is being contested in a suit or court proceeding.

Similarly, whenever the term may presume appears in a statute or any other legal document, it means that the court either may believe or may not believe it. The term shall presume, when it occurs, means the court definitely believes it.

Concept of relevancy in the Act

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 closely connected with a fact in issue, the court can consider it as relevant fact, even if it is not related to the fact in issue at all.

That means the unrelated fact will become relevant in some cases.

Concepts of relevance & admissibility

The concept of relevance governs the admission and use of evidence. If the evidence does not relate directly or indirectly to the issue at hand, it should not be admitted as proof.

The term relevance in this context 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 is being established.

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 only when it is closely 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. The evidence act delineates a distinct line between relevant & irrelevant facts, and admissible & inadmissible facts.

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 in a case.

Circumstantial evidence is the type of evidence which tends to prove a fact by proving the circumstances or events from which the fact basically evolved. The term refers to the surrounding facts.

If a motive or preparation is present in any fact relating to a fact in issue, that fact can be taken as relevant. Any fact such as a motive or preparation for a crime which is necessary to explain any fact in issue is 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.

On the other hand, any fact that remains inconsistent with a fact in issue is also a relevant fact even if it is 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, becomes 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 like mental ill-health or animosity – are relevant ones. Similarly, in order 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 natural or unnatural course in a business.

Concepts of admission

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 some 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.

What is confession?

Confession is admission of guilt or acceptance of criminal liability. 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 then made is relevant.

Extra judicial confession made before a Police Officer or when the accused is in custody is not 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 to another judicial proceeding.

The entries naturally made in a book of account in the natural course of a business are relevant. The statements in legislative acts or notifications are relevant. The statement that contains in an authoritative book is relevant. Only the statements that are relevant to a fact in issue are relevant 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 are 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 the existence or non-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.

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. But whether it is admissible or not is a question of law, mostly dependent on the statute in force.

All relevant facts may not be admissible, but all admissible facts are relevant. Relevancy is based on logic, but the question of admissibility is decided based 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. Therefore, the items of evidence that would come before the court must be both logically relevant and legally admissible.