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Relevance of Proof of Evidence during Criminal Trial

By Bamidele Kolawole

A Proof of Evidence serves as a written account of a witness’s anticipated testimony in a legal proceeding.  It is a settled law that proofs of evidence are not pieces of legal evidence on which a court acts.  They are mere summaries of statements of witnesses to be called by the prosecution.

Olubunmi Akinseye Esq

It is a Notorious Dictum that’s enjoying a huge Judicial Notice world over that; “the Court will rather set 99 criminals free instead of Jailing one innocent man.”

This technically righteous position arises from the fact that, even in the face of all the evidence that might be put before the court, human errors can still occur, while pondering on the facts cum evidence.

In every Trial, be it civil or criminal, evidence is the most crucial ingredient in cooking a good case by either the Prosecution or the Defense.

It is even more important in Criminal Trial, for the Defense to put up cogent and concise evidence in other to prove his or her innocence, since he or she will only be enjoying a presumable innocence for the duration of the Trial, hence there is need for the Defendant to muscle up every material evidence to confront the prosecution and negate the allegations.

Therefore, since it’s a provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law itself, the release of proof of evidence is very important and relevant to the case of the defendant, as the law frowns at witch-hunting in any type of litigation and that is why every material facts and evidence are front loaded in civil litigation.

In same vein, the Law compels the Prosecution team to supply the Defendant with every material it wishes to rely upon at the trial, so as to enable the Defendant put up a good Defence for himself at the trial.

The relevancy of the proof of evidence is connected to the Doctrine of Fair-hearing as well as the fundamental Right of the Defendant to Fair-Trial, and if the Proof of Evidence is denied, by implication, in case the Court found the verdict of Guilt, it can precipitate an Appeal, on the grounds of the absence of both Fair-hearing and Fair-Trial as could be canvassed by the Defendant based on the fact that he was denied access to the evidence used by the prosecutor in proving his guilt.

In summary, the proof of evidence in Criminal Litigation is important to both the Prosecution and the Defendant as well, to enable each party establish his case, and the implication of the absence of Proof of Evidence is fatal to the prosecution, in that the Defense can claim he was not given the level ground to prepare his case, particularly if he eventually lost and decided to proceed on Appeal.

Again, the absence of Proof of Evidence can stall or prolong trial, as the Defense will keep insisting on the need to have it.

Ayonitemi Fasakin Esq
Ayonitemi Fasakin Esq
Ayonitemi Fasakin Esq

In the Nigerian criminal justice system, the implications of not releasing evidence to the defendant in a criminal trial can be significant. Here have some potential consequences:

1. Violation of the defendant’s right to a fair trial: Denying the defendant access to relevant evidence can violate their fundamental right to defend themselves adequately. This can undermine the fairness and impartiality of the trial process.

2. Inability to prepare a proper defense: Without access to crucial evidence, the defendant may be unable to fully prepare their defense or challenge the prosecution’s case effectively. This could result in an unfair disadvantage for the defendant.

3. Risk of wrongful conviction: Lack of access to evidence can increase the risk of wrongful convictions as defendants may not be able to present all relevant information supporting their innocence. This can lead to miscarriages of justice.

4. Undermining public trust in the justice system: When evidence is withheld from the defendant, it can erode trust in the criminal justice system. Transparency and due process are essential to maintaining public confidence in the legal system.

5. Legal repercussions: Failure to disclose evidence to the defendant may lead to legal challenges, appeals, or even the overturning of convictions if it is later discovered that relevant evidence was withheld.

Overall, not releasing evidence to the defendant in a criminal trial goes against the principles of justice, fairness, and due process. It is crucial for all parties involved in the legal system to uphold the rights of the accused and ensure a fair trial for all individuals.

The relevance of proof of evidence in the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot be overemphasized, as it is the bedrock of attaining impartial judgment and justice.

Under Nigerian law, particularly under the Evidence Act of 2011, the term “proof of evidence” refers to the collection of documents, statements, exhibits, and other evidence gathered by the prosecution to support their case against the defendant in a criminal trial.

The proof of evidence serves as the foundation upon which the prosecution builds its case, presenting facts and evidence to establish the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt .It is a fundamental legal principle that an accused person must be aware of what they are facing in court; a criminal trial must not be shrouded in mystery.

An accused person must not be left to embark on logical deduction or guesswork regarding what they are facing in court. See the case of OJO vs. NIGERIA CUSTOMS SERVICE BOARD (2018) LPELR -44104(CA).As a general rule, a prosecutor is expected to fully disclose all the materials they intend to rely on during the trial.

This includes any material in their possession that either supports a defense put up by the defendant or exculpates them from liability. In extreme cases where a prosecutor may refuse to release the proof of evidence, the defendant has the right to apply to the court for access to material in the prosecution’s custody, especially if there is reason to believe that the prosecutor is withholding evidence that may aid the defendant’s case.

The defendant’s right to request proof of evidence has nothing to do with the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt because proof of evidence is not considered evidence itself.

The crux of proof of evidence is to promote fair hearings and justice. The Evidence Act of Nigeria, enacted in 2011 (amended in 2023), contains specific provisions related to proof of evidence in criminal proceedings: Section 38 enshrines the principle of the presumption of innocence, stating that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.

This principle underscores the importance of ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial and are not prejudged or unfairly treated. Section 379 stipulates that in criminal cases, the accused person shall be entitled to a copy of the proof of evidence and other documents that the prosecution intends to rely upon during the trial.

This provision ensures transparency and fairness by allowing the defendant to be informed of the case against them and to prepare an effective defense. Section 167 allows the court to draw adverse inferences if a party fails to produce evidence that they can reasonably be expected to produce.

Specifically, Section 36(6)(b) of the 1999 Constitution states: “(6) Every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be entitled to – (b) adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense.

“This provision guarantees the right of every person charged with a criminal offense to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defense.

It encompasses the right to access evidence, including the proof of evidence that the prosecution intends to rely upon during the trial.

By ensuring that defendants have sufficient time and resources to prepare their defense. See the case of C.O.P. v. Okoye99 (2012) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1320) 390.Proof of evidence serves several vital purposes: Right to fair trial Transparency and full disclosure Prevention of ambush tactics and surprises Ensuring adequate legal representation and preparation.

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, is a revolutionary piece of legislation that has brought about significant improvements in the Nigerian system of criminal justice administration.

Criminal justice is a two-edged sword and not a one-way street, as it promotes the principle that if the prosecution is not permitted by law to spring surprises on the defendant, there is no basis upon which the defendant should attempt an ambush.

Oluwambe Adefehinti Esq

A Proof of Evidence serves as a written account of a witness’s anticipated testimony in a legal proceeding.

It is a settled law that proofs of evidence are not pieces of legal evidence on which a Court acts.

They are mere summaries of statements of witnesses to be called by the Prosecution: FRN vs. Wabara (2013) LPELR (20083) 1 at 20-21, Idagu vs. The State (2018) LPELR (44343) 1 at 38, Pius vs. The State (2012) LPELR (9304) 1 at 30-31

The relevance of a Proof of Evidence in a legal context is significant, and it serves several crucial purposes:

1. Fair Trial:

  – Informed Defense: It ensures that the accused is informed of the case against them

2. Legal Safeguard:

  – Protection of Rights: Providing a Proof of Evidence safeguards the legal rights of the accused, ensuring they have the opportunity to know and challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution.

3. Preparation of Defense: The defense team can carefully review the Proof of Evidence to understand the prosecution’s case, identify potential weaknesses, and formulate a strategic defense.

4. Avoiding Surprise:

  – Preventing Ambush Tactics: Releasing the Proof of Evidence prevents surprise tactics during trial and preventing the defense from being taken off guard.

5. Right to Challenge Evidence: It allows the defense the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution through cross-examination of witnesses based on the content of the Proof of Evidence.

6.Ensuring Open Justice -Transparency: Releasing the Proof of Evidence promotes open justice by ensuring that the accused, legal professionals, and the public have access to information forming the basis of the case.

7. Protection Against Wrongful Convictions: By allowing the defense to scrutinize the evidence beforehand, the Proof of Evidence helps reduce the risk of errors.

The implications of not releasing the Proof of Evidence to the accused in Nigeria can have serious legal consequences, affecting the fairness of the trial and the protection of the accused’s rights. Here are some key implications:

Violation of Fair Trial Rights: Failure to provide the Proof of Evidence may violate the accused person’s constitutional right to a fair hearing.

Adjournment or Stay of Proceedings: The court may intervene by ordering an adjournment or, in more severe cases, staying the proceedings until the prosecution complies with the requirement to disclose the Proof of Evidence.

Exclusion of Evidence: In extreme cases, the court may consider excluding evidence that was not disclosed.

It is crucial for the prosecution to adhere to legal requirements related to disclosure, providing the accused with a fair opportunity to prepare a defense and ensuring the integrity of the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

Toun Mary Yinusa, Esq

Proof of evidence in a criminal trial is a written summary of what a witness will say in evidence during a hearing.

It contains information which may help the case of the prosecution. Section 36 (6) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution as amended, provides that any person accused of a crime must be informed in a language that he understands of the nature and details of the accusation against him, and must be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence.

Hence, proof of evidence is indispensable in criminal trial and as such the defendant is entitled to be furnished with it before trial.

In a criminal case, the accused is presumed innocent until the contrary is proven. Section 36 (5) of the 1999 constitution as amended provides that “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.

Until the guilt of an accused person is established, he/she is presumed to be innocent. Therefore, the defendant in a criminal trial is entitled to be furnished with proof of evidence to enable him to prepare for his defence as he is presumed innocent until the Prosecution has proven his case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The law is settled that even in summary trials before the Federal High Court, the accused must be aware of what he is going to meet in court… a criminal trial must not be shrouded in mystery.” Ojo v Nigeria Customs Service Board (2018) LPELR 44104 (CA). Thus, a criminal trial will not go on trial where the Prosecution failed to supply proof of evidence to the defendant. Furthermore, the defendant can apply for the striking out of the case on the grounds of want of diligent prosecution.

Conclusively, the law allows the defendant to be furnished with proof of evidence by the prosecution before the trial to enable him to prepare for his defence.

Obada Toyosi Charles Esq

Proof of evidence refers to the information and materials used to support the prosecution’s case against the defendant in a criminal trial.

This evidence can include various forms, such as: Witness testimonies Physical evidence (e.g., fingerprints, DNA samples)Documents Digital records Surveillance footage. 

The relevance of proof of evidence lies in its ability to: Establish the elements of the crime: The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed all the essential elements of the crime they are charged with.

Relevant evidence helps to demonstrate these elements. Connect the defendant to the crime: Evidence must link the defendant to the crime scene, the victim, or the criminal act itself.

Relevant evidence strengthens this connection. Help the jury understand the context of the crime: Relevant evidence can provide background information, clarify the sequence of events, or explain the motives behind the crime.

Not releasing the proof of evidence to the defendant during a criminal trial has serious implications, potentially violating the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

These implications include: Denial of due process: The defendant has the right to know the charges against them and to have a fair opportunity to defend themselves. Withholding evidence hinders their ability to prepare an adequate defense and challenge the prosecution’s case effectively.

Impossibility of proper defense: Without access to the evidence, the defendant and their lawyer cannot develop an informed defense strategy or effectively cross-examine witnesses.

This can lead to an unfair conviction. Erosion of public trust: If the public perceives that trials are not conducted fairly and defendants are not given a full opportunity to defend themselves, it can erode trust in the justice system.

However, there are some limited exceptions where withholding evidence might be justified, such as: Protecting the safety of witnesses or informants: In certain cases, revealing the identity of a witness or informant could put their life or safety at risk.

Protecting national security: If the evidence involves classified information, releasing it could compromise national security.

In such cases, the prosecution must demonstrate a compelling reason for withholding evidence and seek a court order to do so.

The court will balance the need for a fair trial against the competing interests before making a decision. In conclusion, proof of evidence plays a crucial role in ensuring a fair and just criminal trial.

Ilemobayo Akinbote Esq.

By virtue of the provision of section 320(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Ondo State, 2015, the prosecution is mandated to oblige the defense counsel all the materials it intends to rely upon at the trial.

Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution provides that any person charged with a criminal offence shall be given adequate time and facilities to prepare for his defense.

Naturally, the essence of proof of evidence is to enable a defendant who is standing criminal trial to prepare for his defense.

This position is anchored on the principle of natural justice encapsulated in the provision of section 36 of the Constitution.

The defendant would have enough time and opportunity to go through the proof of evidence in order to adequately prepare.

The proof of evidence contains the list of documents, witnesses to be called, exhibits to be tendered during trial in order to secure conviction.

Where the prosecution fails to comply with the provisions of these laws, the court is at liberty to order it to do so because of the importance of the proof of evidence in a trial.

Gone are those days when prosecution hide evidence prior to trial and thereby catch the defense by surprise.

Criminal trials are bereft of surprises because the standard of proof in criminal trial, is, proof beyond reasonable doubt. In order to secure a conviction in a criminal trial, the basic requirements for valid trial must be strictly adhered to, otherwise, the whole trial would be set aside on appeal.

It is principally a requirement of the law, particularly, the Constitution that adequate facilities and time be given to a defendant for him to prepare for his trial , one of which is the proof of evidence.

Failure on the part of the prosecution to give proof of evidence to the defense before trial, the trial can be stalled and an unavoidable adjournment imminent in that circumstance. 

It is usually advisable for the defense to demand that proof of evidence be given to him, because the court is thereby assisted in the dispensation of justice and justice according to law.

Therefore, for justice to be done in criminal cases, the proof of evidence served on the defendant demonstrates the seriousness of the prosecution and an intention of achieving the desired goal which is, justice.

I start by looking at the word justice, in simplicity, this word is often used by both the poor and the rich alike, it suggests or connotes fairness.

Whatever is fair is justice, fairness is what justice seeks to obtain or get in a litigation.

The 1999 constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria (CFRN) as altered in its Section 36 talks about fair hearing, you will notice that the word fair occurs again.

The concept of fair hearing is an important concept that cannot be swept under the carpet or handled with levity, it is a pivotal in the administration of our criminal justice.

Consequently, it is this concept of our grundnorm (Constitution), “the fons et origo” is the highest law of the land and section 1 (3), talks about any other law not in conformity with this law is null and void, the idea of proof of evidence emerged from the theory of fair hearing.

The word proof of evidence are the information or facts available so far in respect of the case that any reasonable person will need to be able to defend the suspect effectively and efficiently.

The contents of the proof of evidence shall be according to section 349 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL), 2015 of Ondo State: (i)  the list of witnesses (ii) the list of exhibits to be tendered  (iii) copies of statements of the defendant(s) (iv) any other document, report, or material that the prosecution intends to use in support of his case at the trial (v) particulars of the place of custody if the defendant is in custody (vi) particulars of plea bargain arranged with the defendant, if any; (vii) any other relevant document as may be directed by the court. Section 320 (2) of the ACJL, 2015 of Ondo State says that:“In all trials of the magistrate court or tribunal, the prosecutor shall, on request provide the defendant all materials that the prosecutor intends to rely on trial, before or at the commencement of trial.”

It is important saying, when the proof of evidence is yet to be made available to defence counsel, the matter cannot start, otherwise, this forms a veritable ground of appeal. Then, what is Proof of evidence? I will look holistically at the two key words viz proof and evidence separately before joining them together to form one indivisible word.

Proof is something that establishes certainty. In other words, proof is what proves that something is true, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Oxford dictionary defines evidence as “the facts, signs, or objects that make you believe something is true.” The word evidence is commonly used in law, court, or criminal investigations.

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Relevance of Proof of Evidence during Criminal Trial

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