Two kinds of fact are very important in the Law of Evidence. They are facts in issue and relevant facts. The concept of facts in issue has been dealt with in a previous post. However, it is necessary to bring it up here again because it has a very interesting relationship with relevant facts.
Think of the relationship between facts in issue and relevant facts as that which exists between baking a plain cake and baking a chocolate cake. Yeah. This sounds weird. But stay with me.
If you’re going to bake a cake, there are some ingredients that are absolutely necessary. You can’t bake a cake without flour. If there’s no flour, you ain’t baking nothing. Think of flour as your facts in issue.
Ordinarily, you don’t need chocolate to bake a cake. If all you wanted was a plain cake or a vanilla cake, you have no business with chocolate. However, if you’re baking a chocolate cake, you quite simply must have chocolate. Otherwise, it’s not a chocolate cake. This is exactly how relevant facts operate.
Facts in issue are the foundation upon which your entire case turns. If the case is about Rape or Battery, you simply cannot succeed unless you prove those facts that are basic to establishing a case of Rape or Battery.
However, if your case is that you were assaulted by John, your co-worker, friend and one-time lover, you would need to prove that the person who assaulted you is actually John. And not just any John, but John, your co-worker, friend and one-time lover.
Ordinarily, you have no business proving the name, profession and love life of a person in a claim of Assault. But when your case specifically refers to those things, they become relevant to your case.
So, while you must prove those things that form the facts in issue in your case, there are other things that are not necessary for you to prove except when your case particularly turns on them or refers to them. These are called relevant facts.
What are relevant facts?
The Evidence Act states in its s. 1 that evidence may be given of the existence or non-existence of every fact in issue and of such other facts declared by the Act itself to be relevant. Therefore, relevant facts are those facts declared to be relevant under the Evidence Act. That’s not all though.
The Evidence Act states again in s. 3 that evidence made admissible by any other legislation validly in force in Nigeria is admissible under the Act. This means that if some other Nigerian legislation states that a fact is relevant, then it is relevant.
For example, the Criminal Code states in s. 250(1) that it is relevant to show that a person has been convicted for another offence under s. 249 if you are charging him for an offence under s. 250(1). In this instance, the fact of that other conviction is relevant.
Thus, relevant facts are facts that are declared relevant by the Evidence Act or any other Nigerian legislation validly in force.
What does it mean when a fact is relevant?
So, I’ve been talking about relevant facts a lot. But what does it mean for a fact to be relevant? To what must the fact be relevant? Who or what determines if the fact is relevant?
There are a lot of fancy definitions of what relevance connotes. However, I like the definition given by Lord Simon best. According to him, and in much simpler language, relevance connotes the persuasive value of evidence (or a fact) to a matter that requires proof.
Basically, if a fact tends to persuade the court that something in issue is true or untrue, then it is relevant.
What sort of facts are relevant facts?
I could tell you that only the facts stated under ss. 4 – 13 of the Evidence Act are relevant and I wouldn’t be wrong. At least not exactly. However, as I have mentioned earlier, facts made relevant under other Nigerian legislation validly in force can also be proved as being relevant.
More than this though, it is important to note that relevant facts under the Evidence Act does not begin and end with ss. 4 – 13. Essentially, pretty much every section in the Evidence Act has something to do with facts that are relevant. So don’t go thinking relevant facts are only found in ss. 4 – 13.
Several kinds of facts are made relevant under the Evidence Act and other Nigerian legislation. You can and, in a lot of instances, are expected to give evidence of these facts in support of your case. These facts made relevant include the following:
Facts connected with the fact in issue
As far as the Evidence Act is concerned, facts so connected to the fact in issue as to form part of the circumstances under which it happened are relevant. It would not matter if they happened at different times and places or at the same time and place.
This means that, under s. 4 of the Evidence Act, you are allowed to prove facts that are not central to your case if they can throw light on that case or explain the basic issue in contention.
For instance, in the case of Ishola v State, the major issue turned on whether the Defendant was sufficiently identified as the one that killed the deceased. The court, in holding the Defendant responsible, considered evidence of previous altercations between the Defendant and the deceased, his household and village. This evidence of previous altercations ordinarily had no actual bearing on the question of who killed the deceased.
Facts showing occasion, cause or effect
According to s. 5 Evidence Act, it is relevant for you to prove that some facts are the occasion, cause or effect of the fact in issue or even of other relevant facts. You can use these facts to show the state of things under which the fact in issue happened or that gave the fact in issue an opportunity to happen.
For instance, you can show that a person has a compulsive stealing disorder that compels him to steal in order to show the cause for his stealing an item.
Facts showing motive and conduct
Under s. 6 Evidence Act, you can bring proof of facts that point to the motive for doing the act that constitutes the fact in issue. You can also prove facts that show the conduct of any party to the proceeding in relation to the fact in issue.
In the case of Nwankwere v Adewunmi (1966) 1 All NLR 129, the plaintiff sued the defendant, a Vehicle Inspection Officer, for refusing to issue to him a Certificate of Roadworthiness. He claimed that the defendant refused to issue the certificate because he wanted to extort him, the plaintiff. This is clear proof of motive.
Facts of introduction, identity, relation, time or place
You can bring facts that show the identity of any person whose identity is relevant. For instance, in the example about John that I gave above, it would be legitimate for you to bring evidence that shows the person accused of Assault is indeed John.
Other relevant facts under s. 7 Evidence Act include facts that introduce the fact in issue or a relevant fact, facts that fix the time and place that the fact in issue happened and facts that show the relation of parties concerned with the fact in issue.
Facts showing conspiracy
When there is reasonable ground to believe that certain people have conspired to commit an offence, anything done by any of the parties after the first indication of their intention is relevant against all of them.
By virtue of s. 8 Evidence Act, those things done by any of the parties is relevant against all of them, including those that were absent. In Enahoro v Queen (1965) NMLR 125, the defendant, a co-conspirator, was absent in a second meeting on the conspiracy. The court held that the instructions given in that second meeting and even the acts carrying out the instruction were relevant evidence against the defendant.
However, if any of the conspirators makes a statement, to the police maybe, of the things done by any of the conspirators to further the conspiracy, that statement is only relevant against the one making the statement. If another of the conspirators was present when the statement was made, the statement would also be relevant against him.
Facts that determine quantum of damages
In proceedings where damages are claimed, s. 10 Evidence Act allows a party to prove any facts that can help the court determine the appropriate amount of damages to award.
This means in a personal injury lawsuit, you can produce your medical bills, record of lost wages and any other evidence that can show the court how much you should be entitled to as compensation.
Facts showing state of mind, body or bodily feeling
When the state of a person’s mind is a fact in issue or relevant, you can prove facts that show the existence of that state of mind or bodily feeling.
By virtue of s. 11 Evidence Act, you can show states of mind such as intention, knowledge, good faith, negligence, ill-will and good will even if they are not in issue.
Facts showing similar occurrence
When you lead evidence to show that something has been done in similar circumstances and at other times, it means you are leading evidence of similar fact. Generally, there is no point to this as the fact that a person did something before does not necessarily mean he did it now.
However, s. 12 Evidence Act provides that in a question of whether an act was accidental, intentional or done with knowledge or even to rebut any defence open to the defendant, it is relevant to show that the act has been done on other occasions by the defendant.
This doesn’t necessarily prove that the defendant has done the same thing now. However, it makes it more probable. Thus, in proving that a person is guilty of Theft, you can show that he has stolen other items or even the same item in similar circumstances before.
Facts showing a course of business
If the fact in issue is whether an act was done, it is relevant to show that it is ordinarily done at a particular time or as part of a process.
For instance, there are many stages involved in cooking Jollof rice. If the question is whether salt was added to the rice, it is relevant to show that the ordinary recipe that the cook follows in cooking the rice has a stage particularly devoted to adding of salt. Thus, salt is ordinarily added when cooking the rice.
Facts showing knowledge of stolen goods
In a charge of Receiving Stolen Property, it is relevant to show that in the 12 months preceding the date of the charge, some other property stolen within that period was found or had been in the possession of the defendant.
Under s. 36 Evidence Act, it is also relevant to show that in the 5 years before the charge, the defendant had been convicted for an offence involving fraud or dishonesty.
Facts proving the existence of previous judgements
Generally, it is not necessary to prove the existence of a previous judgement. However, it relevant to prove the previous judgement:
- As a bar to a second suit: The law under s. 36(9) of the Nigerian Constitution is that nobody can be punished for an offence he has been previously convicted or acquitted for. Thus, under s. 59 Evidence Act, it is relevant to show the existence of that previous judgement.
- When the previous judgment is a fact in issue: In a case of Malicious Prosecution, you must show that there was a previous prosecution instigated against you. This is because the essence of the case is that you were falsely prosecuted at the instigation of another person.
- When the previous judgment is relevant under other statutes: As mentioned earlier, some other statute can make certain facts relevant. For instance, s. 250 Criminal Code states that in a charge for an offence under that section, you can show that the defendant was earlier convicted for an offence under s. 249 Criminal Code.
Facts meant to affect the credibility of a witness
On occasion, you can even lead evidence of facts that are simply meant to discredit a witness. Under s. 223 Evidence Act, you can ask the witness questions that are simply meant to test his credibility or veracity, or shake his credit by injuring his character.
If you ask the witness whether he has been previously convicted for an offence, you can even lead evidence to show they are lying under s. 229 Evidence Act.
Facts not otherwise relevant
Importantly, the Evidence Act provides a sort of all-encompassing covering for relevant facts in s. 9.
It states in that section that facts which may not be otherwise relevant can be relevant if they are inconsistent with the fact in issue or any one of the foregoing relevant facts. They can also be relevant if they make the existence of the fact in issue or any relevant fact probable or improbable.
Thus, if a person is charged for being a Cat Burglar, it would be relevant to show that he has a serious problem with his bones that makes it impossible for him to climb. This makes it highly improbable that he is a Cat Burglar.
Now you understand that you don’t always have to prove relevant facts. It is useful to prove them when your case calls for them and not otherwise.