Hearsay Evidence in Criminal Justice

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The common law has long recognised that such evidence is generally inadmissible in criminal proceedings4 and that the primary means by which evidence should be received in a criminal trial is in person, before the jury or justices, with witnesses speaking from first-hand knowledge, not simply repeating what others have told them.5 In the hearsay rule, the records are in principle inadmissible evidence of the matters they contain, and where a witness gives oral evidence only the oral evidence counts, and the previous statement by the witness generally does not.In short, it is an exclusionary rule of evidence,6 although subject to a number of extensive statutory and common law exceptions.7 On one view, it tends to exclude weak evidence and to ensure that a defendant may question his accusers, thus protecting the oral character of the English trial and on the other hand, it is capable of being too restrictive so as to work injustice either way, which in turn, may impede the smooth running of the trial process8. Thus herein emerges the need to examine the defects in the application of the hearsay rule prior to the enaction of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 [hereinafter CJA] and the remedies and lapses that emerge on the examination of the same.It is commonly known that the law prior to the CJA was inadequate and needed reform. The old rule against hearsay was often said to be convoluted, unprincipled and arbitrary in the application of a number of the many exceptions. It may also have lead to the exclusion of cogent evidence and the admissibility of weak evidence. It wasted court time in requiring it to receive oral evidence when written evidence would do and it confused witnesses and prevented them from giving their accounts in their own way when the rule was rigidly applied9. For example due to the courts’ insistence on oral evidence. people who had committed crimes against vulnerable victims tended to be granted a certain level of immunity.