Public consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Evidence Act
30 Sep 2011 Posted in Press releases
- The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is proposing amendments to the Evidence Act (EA), which provides the framework of rules for the types of evidence that can be admitted as evidence during court proceedings. The project forms part of MinLaw’s periodic review of the EA to ensure its continued relevance. The proposals arise from various fronts, including recommendations made by and feedback received from the Law Reform Committee, the Technology Law Development Group of the Singapore Academy of Law, as well as the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association.
- The proposed amendments to the EA are to reform four specific areas of the law of evidence:
- extend the benefit of legal privilege to in-house legal counsel who are qualified to practise in Singapore or elsewhere;
- give the courts greater discretion to admit expert opinion evidence;
- align the rules for admission of computer output evidence with those governing other forms of evidence; and
- broaden and align the categories of admissible hearsay evidence for both criminal and civil proceedings.
- Legal Professional Privilege
- The law recognises that documents and communications between a lawyer and client for the purposes of legal advice are ‘privileged’, and consequently protected from disclosure in court proceedings. At common law, courts in a number of jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, have, to varying degrees, extended the application of privilege to communications between an in-house counsel and his employer.
- MinLaw’s proposed amendments clarify the position in Singapore by statutorily conferring in-house counsel with the benefit of privilege. Under the amendments, privilege will apply to in-house counsel who are qualified in Singapore or any other jurisdiction.
- This amendment will increase Singapore’s attractiveness as a location for MNCs’ in-house legal departments, and enhance our stature as a hub for legal and commercial services.
- Opinion Evidence
- The current provisions of the EA only permit the use of expert opinion evidence in five areas of specialised knowledge, namely “foreign law, science or art, handwriting or finger impressions”.
- These limitations on the categories of admissible expert opinion evidence are unnecessarily restrictive in Singapore’s context, which no longer adopts a system of jury trial. Our judges are capable of appreciating the subtleties of expert opinion evidence and according the appropriate weight to it.
- MinLaw thus proposes expanding the categories of admissible expert opinion evidence to include evidence on scientific, technical or other specialised knowledge where the court would be able to derive substantial assistance from such evidence.
- Computer Output
- The EA currently imposes more stringent requirements for the admission of computer output evidence 1 than other types of evidence. Examples of computer output evidence include documents and print-outs generated by computers; digital sound and video recordings produced by computers and meter readings from electronic devices. The higher threshold for the admission of such evidence was introduced in 1996 due to concerns over the reliability of evidence in the form of computer output.
- Over time and with technological sophistication, such concerns are no longer justified. Given the prevalence of electronic records, the higher threshold for computer output evidence has also presented difficulty and inconvenience for parties seeking to admit electronic evidence in court proceedings.
- The proposed amendments will: (a) repeal the existing sections in the EA that impose computer output-specific requirements, and (b) allow such evidence to be subject to the same rules of admission as all other types of evidence.
- Under our law of evidence, a person generally cannot admit a statement as evidence without also calling the maker of the statement to testify in court as a witness (also known as the hearsay rule). This ensures that the veracity of a statement will be tested in court through the cross-examination of its maker. Thus, for example, if a person (A) is charged with an offence, and a witness (B) wishes to testify that he was told by another person (C) that C saw A commit the offence, B’s evidence would be hearsay evidence and would run foul of the hearsay rule.
- This hearsay rule is subject to certain recognised exceptions in the EA. For instance, hearsay evidence may be admitted if it is inherently credible or may be the only evidence available on a given issue.
- These existing statutory exceptions have been said to be unnecessarily narrow in scope, posing difficulties for parties in court proceedings. MinLaw consequently proposes amending the EA to broaden the scope of the existing hearsay exceptions and introduce various new exceptions. The proposed amendments would also seek to align the civil and criminal evidential rules on hearsay evidence, to ensure that the same exceptions apply to both types of proceedings.
- To ensure that these broadened / new hearsay exceptions are not abused, the courts will be given an overriding discretion to exclude hearsay evidence in the interests of justice. A party seeking to rely on hearsay evidence will also generally be subject to certain prescribed notice requirements.
- MinLaw invites interested parties to provide their feedback on the draft consultation paper (0.2MB) for the Evidence (Amendment) Bill. The consultation period is from 30 September to 30 October 2011. The public can view the consultation paper and draft Bill at www.mlaw.gov.sg and http://www.reach.gov.sg/YourSay/EConsultationPaper.aspx The feedback may be sent in electronic or hard copy form to:
Legal Policy Division
Ministry of Law
100 High Street
#08-02, The Treasury
Fax: 6332 8842
The EA defines “computer output evidence” to mean not just computer printouts, but any statement or representation (whether in audio, visual, graphical, multi-media, printed, pictorial, written or any other form) which is produced by a computer or translated from a statement or representation so produced.
Last updated on 05 Feb 2013