A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF CHARACTER EVIDENCE UNDER THE NIGERIAN EVIDENCE LAW

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A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF CHARACTER EVIDENCE UNDER THE NIGERIAN EVIDENCE LAW

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.0:    INTRODUCTION

Evidence can be the most important part of a trial. It can either convict or people free. Our judicial system covers the entire society and the consequence of incorrect evidence can cause insurmountable damage to a person or a group of people. There must be a formalized and reliable way of getting to the truth as both sides have the right to tell the story. The fact that justice delayed is justice denied means that evidence produced quickly can assist in the dispensation of justice.

Character evidence is a term used in the law of evidence to describe any testimony or document submitted for the purpose of proving that a person acted in a particular way on a particular occasion based on the character or disposition of that person. The logical function of character evidence may be shown by the following illustration.

If a man is accused of stealing, his reputation as a thief logically weighs heavily against him. There is a strong tendency, however, that character evidence will produce a dislike or hatred for the party against whom the evidence is tendered which may result in an adverse finding to vindicate the judges feeling and in disregard of culpability.

Under the Nigerian law, the word character has no single, well defined, technical and all encompassing meaning. Sometimes it means actual character, disposition, what a person is, and sometimes it means reputed character, reputation, community opinion as to character, what a person is supposed to be. When used in the sense of nature or disposition, sometimes it means the entire character, the “sum of the inherited and acquired ethical traits which gave to a man his individuality,” as when we speak of good or bad character generally; and sometimes it means a single trait of character, as when we speak of a person’s honesty, chastity, or veracity. Sometimes it has reference to moral traits or qualities and sometimes not.

It is probably true, however, that in law, as in common speech, the word character usually means moral character, and actual character, as distinguished from reputation; though from the fact that reputation is in law the chief means of proving character, the words character and reputation are frequently but improperly used as if they were synonymous.EVIDENCE OF CHARACTER

1.0 EVIDENCE OF CHARACTER:

Character evidence is a term used in the law of evidence to describe any testimony or document submitted for the purpose of proving that a person acted in a particular way on a particular occasion based on the character or disposition of that person. The logical function of character evidence may be shown by the following illustration.

If a man is accused of stealing, his reputation as a thief logically weighs heavily against him. There is a strong tendency, however, that character evidence will produce a dislike or hatred for the party against whom the evidence is tendered which may result in an adverse finding to vindicate the judges feeling and in disregard of culpability.

Under the Nigerian law, the word character has no single, well defined, technical and all encompassing meaning. Sometimes it means actual character, disposition, what a person is, and sometimes it means reputed character, reputation, community opinion as to character, what a person is supposed to be. When used in the sense of nature or disposition, sometimes it means the entire character, the “sum of the inherited and acquired ethical traits which gave to a man his individuality,” as when we speak of good or bad character generally; and sometimes it means a single trait of character, as when we speak of a person’s honesty, chastity, or veracity. Sometimes it has reference to moral traits or qualities and sometimes not.

It is probably true, however, that in law, as in common speech, the word character usually means moral character, and actual character, as distinguished from reputation; though from the fact that reputation is in law the chief means of proving character, the words character and reputation are frequently but improperly used as if they were synonymous.

 

Character evidence is specie of evidence of previous misconduct.[1] Whatever form the evidence takes, it is affected by exclusionary rules.5However, care must be taken to distinguish between the rules that regulate the admissibility of character evidence and similar fact evidence and possibly also the rationale for their admissibility.6It suffices to say that the provisions of sections 67-72 and section 160(1-)(d) of the Evidence Act mainly govern character evidence in Nigeria. The word “character” is used no less than fifteen times in these provisions.[2] In Stirlandv D.P.P.[3] Lord Simon L.C. said:

“There is perhaps some vagueness in the use of the term ‘good character’ in this connection. Does it refer to the good reputation which a man may bear in his own circle, or does it refer to the man’s real disposition as distinct from what his friends and neighbour may think of him? 

Rules of Evidence therefore exist to safeguard injustice as much as possible. Character Evidence has an impact in our court system in that its admissibility or inadmissibility can save or destroy a suspect in the process of dispensing judgments.

Against the background of the above statement, it will be appropriate at this stage to consider the meaning of “character” within the provisions of the Act.

1.2.0: STATEMENT OF PROBLEM

To Make  A Critical Appraisal Of Character Evidence Under The Nigerian Evidence Law

1.3.0:    AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

The  purpose  of  this  work  is  to  make a critical appraisal of Character Evidence Under The Nigerian Evidence Law.It is aimed that adequate recommendations can be made on the importance, admissibility and potency  of character evidence so as to help in quick dispensation of justice so that little time would be wasted debating on irrelevancies.

1.4.0:    SCOPE OF STUDY

The scope of the study is seen in the way it clarifies the confusion that has surrounded the admissibility of characterevidence in Nigeria. This thesis will evaluate the proof and  practical application of  character evidence and how it has been able to fare in the present day court system. Hence, this thesis is able to lay bare given some rules the situation that must exist for evidence to become admissible or otherwise.

1.5.0:    METHODOLOGY

The method to be employed here in carrying out the research for the purpose of this paper would be   mainly Library Based. Information would be sourced from textbooks, internet, journals written by jurist and public lectures delivered by various professors if any related to my thesis, studying them and drawing a conclusion and preferring recommendations.

Also, great reliance would be placed on case law and the Evidence Act will serve as the primary source of all the provisions to be analyzed.

1.6.0:    SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

It is hoped that the thesis will be of use not only to researchers and other persons with a general interest in the Nigeria law on the subject but also those foreigners who are currently litigating or who may soon litigate any claim in Niger

 

[1] Similar fact evidence and previous conviction are other specie. See Y. Osinbajo, Cases and Materials on Nigerian Law of Evidence, (1992) p. 170. 5R. Cross and C. Tapper, op. cit. p. 248 6Y. Osinbajo, op. cit. p. 170.

[2] See general sections 67-72 and section 160 (1)(d) Evidence Act, Cap 62 Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 1990 (Hereinafter called “{the Act”)

[3] [1944] A.C. 315 at 324, [1944] 2 All E.R. 13 at 17

A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF CHARACTER EVIDENCE UNDER THE NIGERIAN EVIDENCE LAW

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