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Overview Of The Evidence Act: Specific Rules Of Evidence

Nov 23, 2023

Overview of the Evidence Act

The law of evidence in Singapore is a complex topic, and it is not the purpose of this article to provide a comprehensive treatment of the same. Rather, this short article will provide a brief overview of the Evidence Act and certain specific rules of evidence.

The Structure of the Evidence Act

The first concept to understand is that all evidence must be admitted through one of the provisions of the Evidence Act (“EA”). In fact, all common law concepts which are inconsistent with the Evidence Act are repealed by Section 2(2) of the EA.

So, what sort of evidence may be admitted under the EA? The starting point is Section 5 of the Evidence Act (“EA”), which reads as follows:

Evidence may be given in any suit or proceeding of the existence or non-existence of every fact in issue and of such other facts as are hereinafter declared to be relevant, and of no others.”

Section 3(1) of the EA defines “facts in issue” as:

any fact from which either by itself or in connection with other facts the existence, non-existence, nature or extent of any right, liability or disability asserted or denied in any suit or proceeding necessarily follows.”


A is accused of the murder of B.

At A’s trial the following facts may be in issue:

(a) that A caused B’s death;

(b) that A intended to cause B’s death;

(c) that A had received grave and sudden provocation from B;

(d) that A at the time of doing the act which caused B’s death was by reason of unsoundness of mind incapable of knowing its nature.

“Facts in issue”, therefore, can be understood as the primary facts that prove liability or non-liability while “such other facts” refers to the circumstantial evidence from which facts in issue may be inferred.[1]

What then are relevant facts? The answer is found in Sections 6 – 57 of the EA – those sections are essentially an exhaustive list of what the EA considers as relevant and admissible facts. In other words, admissibility under the EA is inclusionary in nature – that is, it informs on what is admissible (rather than what is inadmissible) under Sections 6 – 57.

The following discussions will turn to focus on specific rules of evidence dealt with in Sections 11, 14, 15, 32, and 47 of the EA, which can be broken down as follows:

a. Sections 11, 14, and 15 of the EA will involve the concept of ‘Similar Fact Evidence’;

b. Section 32 of the EA will involve the concept of ‘Hearsay Evidence’;

c. Section 47 of the EA will involve the concept of ‘Expert Evidence’; and

Similar Fact Evidence

Similar Fact Evidence (“SFE”) refers to acts of the accused, one of the parties in the Criminal Justice System, on prior occasions which may be similar or connected to the present offence. So, for instance, an offender is charged with robbing a victim. It was subsequently found out that the offender had previously attempted to rob another person. The offender’s previous robbery attempt is similar to the present offence, and thus constitutes as SFE.

The general starting point is that SFE is not admissible evidence. Why? Because the admittance of SFE represents a high risk of prejudice to the accused. Take for instance the robbery example above. If it the offender’s previous robbery attempt was made known, the reasonable person might come to the instinctive conclusion that the offender had indeed committed the present robbery offence.[2]

However, this does not mean that, in every instance, SFE is not admissible. The Courts have pronounced that SFE which went towards establishing the physical and mental elements (i.e., Actus Reus and Mens Rea) of an offence, can be admitted through Section 11(b) and Section 14/15 of the EA respectively. However, it must be noted that the Courts have made it clear that antecedents are not relied on to establish the inference that the accused person’s past increases his propensity to commit the offence.

In all instances where SFE is sought to be admitted, the overarching test must be satisfied – that is: the probative value of such evidence must exceed its prejudicial effect.

The three forecited sections are set out below:

Section 11 of the EA reads as follows:

Facts not otherwise relevant are relevant —

b) if by themselves or in connection with other facts they make the existence or non-existence of any fact in issue or relevant fact highly probable or improbable.”

Section 14 of the EA reads as follows:

Facts showing the existence of any state of mind, such as intention, knowledge, good faith, negligence, rashness, ill will or goodwill towards any particular person, or showing the existence of any state of body or bodily feeling, are relevant when the existence of any such state of mind or body or bodily feeling is in issue or relevant.”

Explanation 1.—A fact relevant as showing the existence of a relevant state of mind must show that the state of mind exists not generally but in reference to the particular matter in question.

Explanation 2.—But where upon the trial of a person accused of an offence the previous commission by the accused of an offence is relevant within the meaning of this section, the previous conviction of such person is also a relevant fact.

Section 14 of the EA admits a broad range of facts. However, the facts must show that the state of mind exists not generally but in reference to the particular matter in question (see specifically Explanation 1 to Section 14 above)

Section 15 of the EA reads as follows:

When there is a question whether an act was accidental or intentional or done with a particular knowledge or intention, the fact that such act formed part of a series of similar occurrences, in each of which the person doing the act was concerned, is relevant.”

Section 15 of the EA is self-explanatory, and is premised on the notion that a “series of acts with the same characteristics is unlikely to be produced by accident or inadvertence”.

Hearsay Evidence

Hearsay evidence are the assertions of persons made out of court whether orally or in documentary form or in the form of conduct tendered to prove the facts which they refer to.

For instance, person A is on trial for breaking into person B’s house. Person C told person B that he saw Person A breaking into his house. However, Person C is unable to attend court to testify. Person C’s evidence would constitute as hearsay.

The prosecution then tries to tender Person C’s evidence (that he saw Person A breaking into Person B’s house) in Court. Is Person C’s evidence admissible? The general starting point is no. Why? Because the veracity of Person C’s evidence cannot be tested in court (for example under cross-examination). This is the fundamental objection to hearsay evidence.

The rule against the admissibility of hearsay evidence is, however, not without exceptions. Section 32(1) of the EA provides certain exceptions where hearsay evidence can be admitted. The following is a summary of some of the more common exceptions under Section 32(1) of the EA:

a. where the statement is made by the deceased relating to either the cause of his death or any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death;

b. where the statement is made in the course of a commercial, professional or occupational communication;

c. where the statement made is against the interest of the statement maker;

d. where the statement made relates to the existence of a relationship;

e. where the statement is made in a will or deed relating to family affairs;

f. when the statement is made by several persons and expresses feelings relevant to the matter in question;

g. where the statement is made by a person who is dead or who cannot be produced as a witness (for instance, the witness is outside of Singapore and cannot be located);

h. where the parties agree to admit the statement.

It should be noted that, under Section 32(3) EA, the Court retains the discretion to exclude admissible hearsay evidence if it “would not be in the interests of justice to admit it”. However, the Court will not normally exercise such a discretion. Some of the factors that the Court will consider are: (a) the danger of reliability or other harm which might compromise fair adjudication; (b) the tendency of the evidence to confuse or mislead; and (c) prejudicial effect of the evidence.

Expert Evidence

The admissibility of expert evidence is governed by Section 47 of the EA, which provides that the opinions of experts upon a point of scientific, technical or other specialised knowledge are relevant facts.

Section 47 of the EA defines an expert as “a person with such scientific, technical or other specialised knowledge based on training, study or experience”. Crucially, the Courts have stated that a person need not undertake special study to be deemed an expert within the definition of Section 47 of the EA. The person must simply be ‘skilled’ and must possess sufficient experience and specialist knowledge in the subject matter.

The grounds of the expert’s opinion are also relevant under Section 53 of the EA. An expert is expected to draw upon related knowledge and information which will help him to provide an accurate and comprehensive opinion. Put simply, the expert must proffer the grounds on which his opinion is based.

Ultimately, however, the Court remains the arbiter of the matter, and retains the discretion to admit an expert’s evidence as relevant. In this regard, Section 47(4) of the EA is instructive:

An opinion which is otherwise relevant under subsection (1) is not relevant if the court is of the view that it would not be in the interests of justice to treat it as relevant.”

If there are two conflicting expert opinions, the Court may elect between the two or reject them both. What the Court cannot do, however, is to adopt a third theory of its own. The Court’s choice, crucial for criminal lawyers, will ultimately be dependent on the value, impressiveness, and reliability of the expert evidence.

[1] Chen Siyuan & Lionel Leo “The Law of Evidence in Singapore

[2] Although one could say that since the abolishment of jury trials in 1969, the prejudicial effect of SFE is less pronounced in Singapore.



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