The Hearsay Rule in Criminal Matters

Hearsay Rule in Criminal Cases

Understanding the Hearsay Rule in Criminal Cases; A Comprehensive Guide by Dot Legal, NSW

Within the world of proceedings the hearsay rule plays a crucial role in determining what evidence can be presented. Dot Legal, a trusted law firm based in NSW, Australia is here to shed light on the complexities surrounding the hearsay rule in cases and explain its significance and implications.

The most well-known rule of evidence is arguably the prohibition on hearsay. But it’s frequently misinterpreted. Section 59 of the Commonwealth Evidence Act outlines the exclusion of hearsay testimony. It can be fairly assumed that the person intended to declare a fact, but proof of a prior representation made by that person is not admissible to show it, according to that provision.

The hearsay rule can be more simply understood as allowing witnesses to testify only about what they personally saw, heard, or otherwise observed.


What is Inadmissible hearsay?

Witnesses may testify about things they personally witnessed or experienced. They cannot provide proof of what they know just because they heard it from someone else.

It would not be acceptable hearsay for person A to tell the court, “I know that person B burgled the house,” if person A is testifying in a criminal case where person B is accused of breaking into the property. Person C claimed to have witnessed him do it.

Because it depends on what person C has said to prove the existence of a fact that person A is not directly aware of, this evidence would be considered hearsay and would not be admitted.


What does the Hearsay Rule entail?

The hearsay rule represents a principle of evidence law that deals with whether out of court statements can be admitted as evidence, during court proceedings. In cases specifically this rule ensures that reliable and firsthand evidence is presented to promote fair and just trials.


Key Components of the Hearsay Rule:

Definition of Hearsay:

Any written or spoken remark made by a witness other than the one testifying in court is commonly referred to as hearsay. The key to the guideline is to not include such assertions because they are deemed secondhand and might not be as reliable as they should be.

Statements Made Outside of Court:

The hearsay rule mainly covers remarks made outside of court. This covers written declarations, conversations that don’t take place under oath during the trial, and remarks made informally.

Hearsay Rule circumstances:

Although the rule tries to limit hearsay evidence, there are a number of circumstances that permit its admission. These exclusions, which include declarations made under oath, against interest, or during a medical diagnosis, typically center on assuring the statement’s veracity.

Unavailableness of the Declarant:

The unavailability of the individual who made the statement (the declarant) is a crucial issue in evaluating whether hearsay evidence is admissible. Certain hearsay statements may be admissible under certain conditions if the declarant is unavailable.


Why is there a hearsay rule in place?

The following guidelines serve as the foundation for the ban on hearsay testimony:

  • A statement made outside of court cannot have the same legal weight as one made under oath as it was not made under oath;
  • Cross-examination is not the appropriate place to test a repeated assertion made outside of court. As a result, its correctness cannot be assessed;
  • The information could be fabricated, exaggerated, distorted, or inaccurate;
  • The finest evidence does not include hearsay testimony. The “best evidence” guideline basically states that the most qualified individual should provide the evidence. In accordance with the best evidence rule, person C ought to be called as a witness to provide any relevant evidence if they have any.


Hearsay exceptions to the rule

The hearsay rule is subject to several exceptions. The most significant ones are enumerated here.

Remarks that are pertinent but not intended for hearsay

Giving proof of what someone else said is occasionally required for non-hearsay purposes. Statements made for purposes other than hearsay are acceptable (Section 60).

When a statement is repeated as proof that it was uttered, rather than to determine its veracity, it serves a non-hearsay purpose.

It is admissible for person C to testify that they overheard person A threaten to kill person B if person A is accused of threatening to kill person B. Person C heard the threat and can confirm that it was made, which is why this is the case. In this instance, the purpose of the evidence is to prove that a statement was made, not to prove that it is true.

Out of court admissions

According to Section 81 of the Evidence Act, admissions made outside of court are admissible.

Section 84 states that an admission obtained outside of court cannot be admitted if it was the result of coercion, violence, or other forms of oppression or demeaning behavior. Therefore, a police officer can provide evidence of confessions made by an accused person if the accused notifies police that he committed an offense after receiving the appropriate cautions and without being coerced into doing so. However, this evidence will not be considered if an admission is given to the police as a result of threats or other forms of coercion.

Individuals in private might also provide proof of voluntary admissions made to them.

The maker of the statement is unavailable

Under some situations, a statement made by someone who is unable to testify may be entered into evidence (Section 65).


Consequences for Criminal Proceedings:

Respecting the hearsay rule is essential to preserving the integrity of the legal system in criminal cases. Unreliable evidence may be included as a result of unchecked hearsay, which could bias the jury and compromise the trial’s impartiality.


How Do Courts Avoid Hearing Hearsay Evidence?

Verbal Testimony
During examination-in-chief or cross-examination, attorneys typically are able to steer clear of asking questions that lead to hearsay admissions from their witnesses. The opposing side will raise objections to any evidence that a witness begins to provide that would be considered inadmissible hearsay, and the witness’s attorney will be instructed to refocus their questioning.

A document’s contents may qualify as hearsay that is not admissible. If a document’s author is not accessible for cross-examination, it is usual for a party to object to the document being tendered in court. This is due to the fact that unless the person who wrote the paper is present in court to accept its contents and have their testimony cross-examined, the statements it contains amount to hearsay.

A court has the authority to order the party wishing to offer a document that includes hearsay assertions but is otherwise admissible to obscure the hearsay sections.

Police Observers
People who frequently testify in court and are aware of the hearsay rule, like police officers, frequently present their evidence in an attempt to circumvent the hearsay rule. A police witness will frequently remark something along the lines of, “We spoke with the victim and she told us certain things.”

Police take this action in order to avoid dealing with remarks that are considered inadmissible hearsay and to give the court an overview of the police officer’s involvement in a case.


Professional Advice from Dot Legal:

Legal knowledge is necessary to navigate the complexities of the hearsay rule, and Dot Legal is your buddy in guaranteeing a complete comprehension of its application in criminal cases. Our skilled attorneys in NSW are knowledgeable with the complexities of evidence law and provide clients facing or involved in criminal proceedings with effective advice.


In criminal cases, the hearsay rule is an essential defense against the introduction of shaky evidence that upholds the concepts of justice and equity. We at Dot Legal understand how important this provision is to maintaining the fairness of court cases. You can rely on Dot Legal to help you navigate the complexities of the Australian legal system if you need thorough legal assistance and knowledge of evidence law.

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