Jurisdiction - Singapore
News
Amendments to the Evidence Act.

2 March, 2012

 

 

The Evidence Act (Chapter 97) (the “Act”) which was first enacted in 1893 when Singapore was part of the Straits Settlement will undergo another round of substantive amendments. Being the principal statute governing the law of evidence in Singapore, the Act is being amended to ensure its continued applicability against the backdrop of commercial and technological developments.
 
The proposed amendments were passed in Parliament on 14 February 2012 and are expected to take effect this year. Once the amended Act becomes effective:

 

  • Legal professional privilege which currently applies only to advocates and solicitors will be extended to in-house legal counsel and legal counsel in public agencies including Government ministries, statutory boards and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
  • Specific rules governing the admissibility of computer output as evidence will be removed so that such evidence would be subject to the existing rules governing the relevance and admissibility of evidence.
  • The rule which permits the credit of a rape victim to be impeached upon proof that she was of a “generally immoral” character will be removed.
  • The courts will be given wider discretion in admitting:
    • Opinions of experts as evidence; and 
    • Hearsay evidence (i.e. evidence for which the maker is not present in court to testify as a witness) for both criminal and civil proceedings. 
 
Of greater significance are the amendments to give the courts greater discretion to admit expert opinion and hearsay evidence. This will be elaborated on below.
 
Expert opinion
 
Under the current provisions of the Act, expert opinion relates only to “a point of foreign law or of science or art, or as to the identity or genuineness of handwriting or finger impressions”. The amendments will allow the courts to admit any expert evidence as long as the courts is “likely to derive assistance” from any opinion “upon a point of scientific, technical or other specialised knowledge”. As can be seen, the ambit of expert opinion has been broadened by the amendments.
 
At the same time, the courts will also be armed with the discretion to exclude any expert opinion as evidence which the courts view “would not be in the interests of justice to treat… as relevant”.
 
Hearsay evidence
 
Under the current regime, if the maker of a statement “is dead or… cannot be found, or… has become incapable of giving evidence, or whose attendance cannot be procured without an amount of delay or expense which under the circumstances of the case appears to the court unreasonable” (the “Condition Precedent”), such statement may be admitted if it falls within any of the exceptions to the hearsay rule (the “Exceptions”).
 
Currently such Exceptions include a statement made by a person as to the cause of his death; a statement made in the ordinary course of business; a statement against the pecuniary or proprietary interest of the maker; or a statement made in a will or deed relating to family affairs.
 
The amendments seek to remove the Condition Precedent. This effectively means that any statement of relevant facts made by a person may be admitted as evidence if such statement is one made under any of the Exceptions. This is provided that such statement was put into writing at the request of the maker at the time the statement was made or reasonably soon afterwards. In addition to this, where parties are agreeable, statements may be admissible as evidence in court proceedings even if such statements are hearsay evidence.
 
Apart from removing the Condition Precedent for hearsay evidence to be admitted, the amendments seek to introduce new Exceptions where hearsay evidence may be admitted and these include the circumstances under the Condition Precedent and the following:
 
  • A protest, greeting or other verbal utterance may be treated as stating any fact that the utterance implies.
  • Where a person is called as a witness in any proceedings, a statement of opinion by him on a relevant matter on which he is not qualified to give expert evidence, if made as a way of conveying relevant facts personally perceived by him, is admissible as evidence of what he perceived.
  • Where in any proceedings, a statement made by a person who is not called as a witness in those proceedings but is given under any of the statutory Exceptions, any evidence tending to prove that, whether before or after he made that statement, he made another statement inconsistent with the first-mentioned statement is admissible for the purpose of showing that he has contradicted himself.
 
In balancing the wider discretion in admitting hearsay evidence, the courts will be armed with a residual discretion to exclude evidence which the court is of the view that it “would not be in the interests of justice” to admit. Further, there is also the requirement for the party who intends to introduce hearsay evidence to give notice of his intention to do so unless the parties have agreed to admit such hearsay evidence in the proceedings.
 
Consequential to the amendments to the hearsay rule in the Act, the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 which contains the hearsay rule governing criminal proceedings will also be amended. This is to achieve the effect of having a single hearsay rule as reflected in the Act being applicable to both civil and criminal proceedings.
 
While some have argued that the amendments have gone too far in lowering the protections afforded to those accused of criminal offences, others have argued that the hearsay rule should be abolished in total. In any case, it should be noted that these rules govern only the admissibility of evidence and the judge retains the ultimate discretion as to the weight to be accorded to any evidence that is admitted.
 

 
For further information, please contact:
 
Vincent Wong, ATMD Bird & Bird
vincent.wong@twobirds.com
 

 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.