When witnesses testify during court proceedings, they usually answer questions about their own personal knowledge of events surrounding the court dispute. Sometimes, witnesses testify to information outside their personal knowledge because they are experts in their field or representatives of businesses. Personal knowledge and observation are important concepts in court because the parties usually want the court or jury to hear the truth about what happened. See Evidence Act, Section 37 et seq.
Hearsay evidence, or evidence of a statement that was made by someone else who is not testifying, relayed by the person testifying and offered to prove the truth of that statement, is usually not admissible in court. In other words, a woman describing a conversation that her friend had alone with the defendant is offering hearsay evidence if the woman's testimony is offered to prove that the defendant confessed during that conversation – the woman was not present during the conversation and is relaying what she heard from her friend.
In The Bahamas, oral testimony needs to be direct. In the example given above, the friend could testify directly about the conversation she had with the defendant, but the woman could not. In another example, if the friend wrote a letter describing her conversation with the defendant that says the defendant confessed, that letter would be hearsay evidence. Again, to avoid hearsay, the friend would need to testify directly about the conversation.
There are many exceptions that allow certain hearsay evidence to be used in court. For example, if testimony tends to prove or disprove a person's knowledge, intention, motive, or state of mind, and the testimony is offered for the purpose of proving this, then it may be used even though it is hearsay. Also, evidence of admissions made against a party's best interest (like an admission of guilt) and made by the party himself are admissible even if they are hearsay. Further, official records, books, and registers may be admitted even if they are hearsay, as may statements made by a witness in another case who has since died, become mentally incompetent, become very ill, or left the country.
A broad category of hearsay exceptions applies if the statement was made by a person who is now deceased and a witness is repeating what the deceased person said. For example, one exception permits evidence of a statement by a deceased person about the cause of his death in a criminal case regarding the death. The deceased person must have been in danger of death and expecting death at the time of the statement, and the statement must have been of the type that the deceased person could have made in court if he survived.
The above hearsay exceptions describe only a few of the ways that otherwise prohibited hearsay evidence may make its way into court. When witnesses testify in court, it is important to recognize whether their statements show their personal knowledge or whether they are relaying hearsay.
To find out more about hearsay and evidence rules, visit Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.