Hearsay evidence

Introduction

When a witness is giving evidence in court they cannot use what someone else has said as evidence. This is called hearsay. The court must hear from the person themselves to consider it as evidence. For example, if you are a witness in a trial, you cannot give the following evidence, "My mother told me she saw the accused at 3pm". This is evidence of a statement made out of court and is hearsay. For that evidence to be introduced, your mother would have to take the stand and describe what she saw herself.

Rules

The general rule is that hearsay evidence cannot be admitted in court. If you are giving evidence and start to say something that amounts to hearsay evidence, you can be interrupted and asked to stop by one of the people in the case or by the judge.

Exceptions to the hearsay rule

Not all out-of-court statements are hearsay. For example, if an accused claims that they are dumb, you can give evidence that you saw and heard them say "I want an ice-cream". This evidence is not being introduced to prove that the accused wanted an ice-cream, but to prove that they can speak. For that reason, it is admissible.

The most important exception to the hearsay rule is admission or confession evidence. Generally, it is assumed that someone would not make a statement against their own interests, so the statement must be true. This means that you can give evidence that the accused said to you on the day the victim died, "I did it. I killed him". Normally, this would be hearsay evidence as it is an out-of-court statement and it has been introduced to prove that the accused killed the deceased. However, because confessions are an exception to the hearsay rule, that evidence can be admitted in court.

Further information

You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.

Page edited: 16 May 2019