The Admissibility Of Electronically Generated Evidence In Nigeria

Prior to the advent of the Evidence Act, 2011 the statutory enactment that regulates the law of evidence in the Nigerian judiciary and administration of justice, recourse had always been given to the English common laws due to the fact that the laws we adhere to stemmed from England and its Chancery courts.
Before now, electronically generated evidence was almost unheard of in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, the place of electronically generated evidence and its admissibility in our courts was very uncertain. This was because; the need for electronic evidence did not arise as, the conventional methods of procuring evidence through documents and witnesses was on the rise.

However, as the world is regarded as a global village, evolution occurred with the passage of time and, electronically generated evidence which was a gray area of law in the administration of justice started to garner relevance in the justice system.
Emphatically, the major breakthrough in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) leading to the evolution of important electronic devices in gathering information have caused the lacuna to be bridged between the conventional forms of evidence available in Nigeria which are classified into three parts namely,
[1] Oral Evidence – Section 126 of the Evidence Act, 2011.
[2] Real Evidence – Section 258 of the Evidence Act, 2011.
[3] Documentary Evidence – Section 83 of the Evidence Act, 2011.

These electronic devices have affected court decisions with regards to the admissibility of electronically generated evidence which range from software formats like, CD ROMS, USB drives, microchips, and diskettes, VCDs, DVD, amongst others. The Evidence Act now recognizes and makes specific provisions for the admissibility and the relevance of the subject matter
Succinctly stated was the assertion made by the Supreme Court in the locus classicus on the subject matter of the law of evidence, in Yesufu V. ACB, it was expressed that,
The law cannot be and is not ignorant of modern methods and must not shut its eyes to the mystery of the computer.’

The admissibility of specialized types of evidence such as, the electronically generated evidence is science oriented and therefore requires an appreciation of same by the legal practitioners, judges, the magistrate and the general public.

DESCRIBING EVIDENCE

We cannot discuss the admissibility of electronically generated evidence without the slightest inkling to describing the key concept of ‘evidence’ stated on a recurring basis in this work. Evidence has no generally accepted definition but, juristic scholars have taken cogent steps to describe the legal terminology.

According to Phipson, ‘Evidence is the testimony whether oral, documentary, or real which may be legally received in order to prove or disprove some facts in dispute.’
To Cross, ‘Evidence is an act which tends to prove something which may satisfy an inquirer of the facts in evidence.’
Additionally, the Black’s Law Dictionary described evidence as, ‘something, including testimony, documents and tangible objects that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact.’
Judicial evidence was defined in the case of Awuse V. Odili to mean,
‘Any specie of proof, or probable matter legally presented at the trial of an issue by the act of the parties and through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc. for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury as to their contention.’

ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE- AN OVERVIEW

The Evidence Act does not expressly define electronic evidence but, reference is made to Section 84 of the Act which provides to the effect that;
‘Statements contained in a document produced by a computer shall be admissible as evidence of any fact stated in it of which direct oral evidence would be admissible…’
Furthermore, Section 258 of the Evidence Act which is the Interpretation section defines computer as, ‘any device for storing and processing information.’ The expanded meaning of document under this section includes; any disc tape, sound track or other device in which sounds or other data are embodied. Electronic evidence can be found in e-mails, digital photographs, CCTV camera footage, ATMs, transaction logs, internet browser histories, Global Positioning Systems [GPS] amongst others.
Thus, the definition of electronic evidence may therefore be heralded as electronically stored information or any device that may be used in court to prove or disprove a fact. It includes documents, files, as well as records that are stored by network or internet service providers.

ADMISSIBILITY OF E-EVIDENCE-SITUATING THE PLACE OF ELECTRONICALLY GENERATED EVIDENCE IN NIGERIA, GIVING COGNIZANCE TO ITS WEIGHT AND ADMISSIBILITY UNDER THE LAW OF EVIDENCE

For evidence in any form to be operational in the Nigerian courts, and fall within the purview of the law of evidence, it must be couched in a way that the law accepts and this will flow from a balance of the procedures that have already been enunciated in the statutory enactments for arriving at certain decisions.

Any variety of evidence to be presented before the court has to be in conformity with the laid down procedure consequently stated in Section 1 of the Evidence Act [2011] which provides that;
‘Evidence may be given in any suit or proceedings of the existence or non-existence of every fact in issue and of such other facts as are hereafter declared to be relevant and of no other…’
It can be depicted from the above provision that, for electronically generated evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant and conform to the stipulations of the Act. It must not be too remote to be material to the case even though it is relevant and must not be void of any evidential value in respect of the circumstances of the case as expressed in Section 1 [a] of the Act which grants the courts the discretionary power to disregard any form of evidence which is seen as being too remote to be of probative value with regards to the circumstances of the case.
In addition, Section 2 of the Evidence Act further states that;
‘For the avoidance of doubt, all evidence given in accordance with Section 1 shall unless excluded in accordance with this or any other Act or any other legislation validly in force in Nigeria can be admissible in judicial proceedings to which this Act applies.’
In furtherance of the above, all evidence including electronically generated evidence except those excluded in accordance with the provisions of Section 2 are admissible provided that, admissibility of such evidence shall be subject to all such conditions as may be specified in each case by or under the Act. The general principle of admissibility and weight also applies to electronically generated documents.

A document that has been electronically stored or generated may be admissible in court but, a judge may attach little or no weight to it. Section 34 [1][b] of the Evidence Act provides a guide on what a court should do in ascribing weight to statements contained in a document produced by a computer. As a general rule, in both criminal and civil cases, evidence which is relevant is not excluded merely by the way in which it has been obtained as encapsulated in Section 14 of the Evidence Act.

CONCLUSION

Summarily, the law is trite that, admissibility of a piece of evidence is based on relevancy. Therefore, Sections 4-13 of the Evidence Act deals with relevancy and Section 13 provides to the effect that;
‘When there is a question whether a particular act was done, the existence of any course of business, according to which it naturally would have been done, is a relevant fact.’

It suffices to say that, ‘for electronically generated evidence to be admissible, evidence as to the functionality of the computer must first be adduced’– former CJN; Justice Walter Onnoghen.

11 thoughts on “The Admissibility Of Electronically Generated Evidence In Nigeria

    1. I agree with you Samuel. Definitely, the members of the community have to be aware of their rights and means of enforcing them before they can validly embrace the improvement else, it just remains a piece of information in their subconsciousness.

    1. For the record Golden, ‘the camera cannot lie’. Evidence adduced from electronic devices such as CCTV camera footage for instance is almost 99.9 percent very accurate because, it states the fact as it is and does not add or subtract. However, human intelligence in forging facts can then tamper with the said evidence and alter the contents of the evidence. Except that happens, the electronically generated evidence is accurate. Let me refer you to ‘punch.ng’ to read the story of the medical doctor who was saved by a CCTV camera footage as he was linked with the ‘suicide’ of the Redeemed Christian Church of God minister as, the Police mistook it for murder, but there was a CCTV camera in the estate that recorded the whole thing and the medical doctor and others present at the crime scene were exonerated.

  1. Admissible evidence, in a court of law, is any testimonial, documentary, or tangible evidence that may be introduced to a factfinder—usually a judge or jury—to establish or to bolster a point put forth by a party to the proceeding. For evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant and

  2. Crime Scene Processing Goals and Objectives. The goal of the crime scene program is to aid and assist law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Minnesota in the investigation of violent crimes. The role of the BCA Crime Scene Team is to advise the requesting agency in methods of securing the crime scene prior to arrival; to document the …

    1. Rosa, thank you for taking time to share your views.
      I was making reference to the Nigerian legal jurisprudence.
      It’d be interesting to learn from you about Minnesota

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