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Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience nor can it be adequately substantiated. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, "hearsay" can also have the narrower meaning of the use of such information as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Such use of "hearsay evidence" in court is generally not allowed. This prohibition is called the hearsay rule.
For example, a witness says "Susan told me Tom was in town" as the witness's evidence to the fact that Tom was in town. Since the witness does not offer in this statement the personal knowledge of the fact, this witness statement would be hearsay evidence to the fact that Tom was in town, and not admissible. Only when Susan testifies herself in the current judicial proceeding that she saw Tom in town, that Susan's testimony becomes admissible evidence to the fact that Tom was in town. However, a witness statement "Susan told me Tom was in town" can be admissible as evidence, for instance, in the case against Susan when she is accused of spreading defamatory rumors about Tom, because now the witness has personal knowledge of the fact that Susan said (i.e., pronounced the defamatory words) "Tom was in town" in the presence of the witness and it is an opposing party’s statement that constitutes a verbal act.
Double hearsay is when a hearsay statement offered as evidence contains another hearsay statement.
For example, a witness wants to testify that: "a very reliable man informed me that Wools-Sampson told him". The statements of the very reliable man and Wools-Sampson are both hearsay submissions on the part of the witness, and the second hearsay (the statement of Wools-Sampson) depends on the first (the statement of the very reliable man). In a court, both layers of hearsay must be found separately admissible. In this example, the first hearsay also comes from an anonymous source and the admissibility of an anonymous statement requires additional legal burden of proof.
Many jurisdictions that generally disallow hearsay evidence in courts permit the more widespread use of hearsay in non-judicial hearings.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him".
"Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." Per Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(a), a statement made by a defendant is admissible as evidence only if it is inculpatory; exculpatory statements made to an investigator are hearsay and therefore may not be admitted as evidence in court, unless the defendant testifies. When an out-of-court statement offered as evidence contains another out-of-court statement it is called double hearsay, and both layers of hearsay must be found separately admissible.
There are several exceptions to the rule against hearsay in U.S. law. Federal Rule of Evidence 803 lists the following:
- Statement against interest
- Present sense impressions and Excited utterances
- Then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition[when defined as?]
- Medical diagnosis or treatment
- Recorded recollection
- Records of regularly conducted activity
- Public records and reports, as well as absence of entry in records
- Records of vital statistics
- Absence of public record or entry
- Records of religious organizations
- Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates, and Family and Property records
- Statements in documents affecting an interest in property
- Statements in ancient documents the authenticity of which can be established.
- Market reports, commercial publications
- "Learned treatises"
- Reputation concerning personal or family history, boundaries, or general history, or as to character
- Judgment of previous conviction, and as to personal, family or general history, or boundaries.
Also, some documents are self-authenticating under Rule 902, such as (1) domestic public documents under seal, (2) domestic public documents not under seal, but bearing a signature of a public officer, (3) foreign public documents, (4) certified copies of public records, (5) official publications, (6) newspapers and periodicals, (7) trade inscriptions and the like, (8) acknowledged documents (i.e. by a notary public), (9) commercial paper and related documents, (10) presumptions under Acts of Congress, (11) certified domestic records of regularly conducted activity, (12) certified foreign records of regularly conducted activity.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, hearsay is generally admissible in civil proceedings but is only admissible in criminal proceedings if it falls within a statutory or a preserved common law exception, all of the parties to the proceedings agree, or the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice that the evidence is admissible.
Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides that where a witness is unavailable, hearsay is admissible where a) the relevant person is dead; b) the relevant person is unfit to be a witness because of his bodily or mental condition; c) the relevant person is outside the UK and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance; d) the relevant person cannot be found; e) through fear, the relevant person does not give oral evidence in the proceedings and the court gives leave for the statement to be given in evidence.
The two main common law exceptions to the rule that hearsay is inadmissible are res gestae and confessions.
Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in Canada unless it falls within one of the established common law exceptions. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision in R. v. Khan and subsequent cases, hearsay evidence that does not fall within the established exceptions can be admitted where established that such evidence is both "necessary and reliable". Additionally, hearsay evidence that would otherwise be admissible as an exception can nonetheless be excluded if it is not necessary and reliable, as in R. v. Starr.
Hong Kong's law of hearsay is modeled on the law in England and Wales. Since 1 July 1997, English cases are merely persuasive and not binding on Hong Kong courts, but in practice they are usually followed. The situation for civil cases is covered by ss 46-55B of the Evidence Ordinance. That Ordinance also covers certain exceptions in criminal cases, supplementing the common law.
Australia is a federation, and the rules of evidence differ between States. However, the Commonwealth, Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, and the ACT all share similar hearsay provisions in their Uniform Evidence Acts; the other States rely upon the common law. As elsewhere, hearsay is usually inadmissible, outside of interlocutory proceedings, unless it falls within one of the hearsay exceptions.
Uniform Evidence Act
Hearsay is dealt with under Part 3.2. There are several local peculiarities with its treatment. s 59 defines the 'fact' of a hearsay statement as being something 'that it can reasonably be supposed that the person intended to assert by the representation.' The extraordinary s 60 allows a statement's use as hearsay if it is admitted for a non-hearsay purpose, although the application of s 60 may be limited by s 137 (which is essentially the discretion formerly known as Christie.) s 72 excepts 'evidence of a representation about ... the traditional laws and customs of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander group', although this arguably would have fallen into the 'public right' exception at common law. Confessions are called 'admissions' by the Act (which quite foreseeably led to the confusion whereby counsel apply for the 'admission of the admission'.) They are dealt with separately under Part 3.4, which lifts the hearsay rule. The Act's dictionary defines 'admission' broadly enough to include anything that might be used against the accused. The other sections in the Part for the most part codify, roughly, the common-law rules.
In Malaysia, hearsay evidence is generally not allowed. However, the Evidence Act 1950 permitted a few exceptions such as section 6, 73A and etc.
Hearsay evidence is covered by sections 16-22 of the Evidence Act 2006. Pursuant to s 4(1) of the Act, a hearsay statement is a statement made by someone other than a witness (in the proceedings) that is offered to prove the truth of its contents. Under section 17 of this Act a hearsay statement is generally not admissible in any court proceeding. Though section 18 states when a hearsay statement may be able to be given in court. This is when the statement is reliable, the statement maker is unavailable to be called as a witness or it would provide undue expense and delay if that person was required to be a witness. There are also a number of specific exceptions such as statements in business records. Other exceptions include state of mind evidence (see R v Blastland) and whether the statement is tendered to prove the fact it was uttered or made, rather than to prove the truth of its contents (see DPP v Subramaniam).
Even if Norway has a maxim of "free evidence" (any statement, object, forensics or other matters that may apply) to be entered and admitted in court, hearsay is in conflict with the defense cousel´s or prosecution´s ability to cross examine, as the witness who relayed the original statement is not present in court. In practise, hearsay is then not allowed.
In Sri Lanka, hearsay evidence is generally not allowed. However, the Evidence Ordinance recognizes a few exceptions such as res gestae (recognised under Section 6) and common intention (recognised under Section 10)and some other exceptions from section 17 to section 39. Some other exceptions are provided by case law (see Subramaniam v. DPP  1 WLR 956 (PC)).
Sweden allows hearsay evidence.
- Oxford Dictionary Online
- Federal Rules of Evidence, December 1st2009 http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/RulesAndPolicies/rules/EV2009.pdf
- "HEARSAY RULE: FRE 801(a)-(c); 805, 806 - PART F: HEARSAY".
- Federal Rules of Evidence
- "Federal Rule of Evidence 801(a)-(c); 805, 806 PART F: HEARSAY".
- Civil Evidence Act 1995, s. 1.
- The preserved common law exceptions are held in Criminal Justice Act 2003, s.118
- Criminal Justice Act 2003, s. 114 (1) (d).
- "Evidence Act 1995 (Cth)".
- Terrill, Richard J. (2009). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Survey (7 ed.). Elsevier. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-59345-612-2.