Hearsay evidence is defined in s 1(2)(a) of the Civil Evidence Act 1995 as:
‘a statement made otherwise than by a person while giving oral evidence in the proceedings which is tendered as evidence of the matters stated.’
Essentially, it is anything said/written outside the courtroom which is then used to prove the truth of the matter in court. It must constitute admissible evidence, so it must be relevant to the matter and of a non-expert based opinion.
S 1 of the Civil Evidence Act states that evidence shall not be excluded on the basis that it is hearsay, however although it is admissible it is not normally the best evidence of fact. It is not made under oath like in the courtroom, and it is hence not uncommon that people lie or make up inaccurate statements. Furthermore, the more times it is passed on, the more likely that an error will be present.
A trial judge will usually use a number of questions to assess the value of hearsay evidence, such as what issue it addresses, how important that issue is to the overall case, what other evidence, if any, is available on the same issue and whether the hearsay evidence is more certain than anything else which could be found through practical efforts.
S4 of the Civil Evidence Act provides further guidance in assessing the amount of value that should be attributed to hearsay evidence. Any circumstances which may reasonably infer information about the reliability of the evidence should be considered, such as whether it could be classed as multiple hearsay, and whether any motive was involved.
So, although hearsay evidence may be admissible, there are numerous restrictions regarding its value and it is therefore not advisable to rely on it entirely.
By Emma Wigmore, a work experience student at Lawdit Solicitors.