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BURDEN OF PROOF IN A CIVIL CASE – EVIDENTIAL BURDEN

Dictum

Section 137 of the Evidence Act, 2004 provides for the burden of proof in civil cases. The burden of first proving the existence of a fact lies on the party against whom the judgment of the court could be given if no evidence were produced on either side, regard being had to any presumption that may arise on the pleadings. If such party adduces evidence which might reasonably satisfy a court that the fact sought to be proved is established, the burden lies on the party against whom judgment would be given if no more evidence were adduced; and so on successively until all the issues in the pleadings have been dealt with. Where there are conflicting presumptions, the case is the same as if there were evidence. By section 137, the burden of proof is not static. It fluctuates between the parties. Subsection (1) places the first burden on the party against whom the court will give judgment if no evidence is adduced on either side. In other words, the onus probandi is on the party who would fail if no evidence is given in the case. Thereafter, the second burden goes to the adverse party by virtue of subsection (2). And so the burdens change places almost like the colour of a chameleon until all the issues in the pleadings have been dealt with. By section 137(2), the burden of proof shifts between the parties in the course of giving evidence in the proceedings. From the language of the subsection, there is some amount of versatility in the shifting process of the burden. The shifting process, in the language of the subsection, will be so on successively until all the issues in the pleadings have been dealt with. Section 139 of the Evidence Act provides for the proof of a particular fact. By the section, the burden of proof as to any particular fact lies on the person who wishes the court to believe in its existence, unless it is provided by any law that the proof of that fact shall lie on any particular person, but the burden may in course of a case be shifted from one side to the other. In considering the amount of evidence necessary to shift the burden of proof, regard shall be had by the court to the opportunity of knowledge with respect to the fact to be proved which may be possessed by the parties, respectively. (See Abdul-Raham v Commissioner of Police (1971) NMLR 87; Arase v Arase (1981) 5 SC 33; Savannah Bank of Nigeria Ltd v Pan Atlantic Shipping and Transport Agencies Ltd (1987) 1 NWLR (Part 49) 212 and Fadlattah v Arewa Textile Ltd (1997) 8 NWLR (Part 518) 546).

— Niki Tobi, JSC. Buhari v. INEC (2008) – SC 51/2008

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PLAINTIFF MUST RELY ON THE STRENGTH OF HIS CASE AND NOT WEAKNESS OF DEFENDANT’S CASE

The onus in such cases lies on the plaintiff to satisfy the court that he is entitled on the evidence brought by him to the declaration of title claimed. In this regard, the plaintiff must rely on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defendant’s case. If this onus is not discharged, the weakness of the defendant’s case will not help him and the proper judgment will be for the defendant. See Kodilinye v. Mbanefo Odu (1935) 2 WACA 336 at 337 and Frempong v. Brempong (1952) 14WACA 13. Any evidence, however, adduced by the defendant which, to any extent is favourable to the plaintiff’s case will undoubtedly go to strengthen the case for the plaintiff. See Josiah Akinola and Another v. Oluwo and Others (1962) 1SCNLR 352, (1962) 1 All NLR 224 at 225, Oduaran v. Asarah (1972) 1 All NLR (Pt.2) 137, Idundun and Others v. Daniel Okumagba (1976) 9 – 10 SC 227.

— Iguh, JSC. Olohunde v. Adeyoju (2000) – SC.15/1995

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A PARTY IS FREE TO PROVE HIS CASE BY ANY MEANS HE DEEMS APPROPRIATE

“10. Defendant contended that the fact that the plaintiff did not’ testify himself or call witnesses to testify on his behalf amounts to a waiver of his claim as there is no substantiating evidence upon which judgment can be granted in his favour. Defendant urged the Court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim as it is unverified and unsubstantiated. With respect, this position canvassed by the defendant is not tenable at law. A plaintiff can prove his case either by relying on documents or by providing oral evidence or he could use a combination of both. A party is free to prove his case by any means he deems appropriate.”

— Ayika v Liberia (2012) – ECW/CCJ/JUD/09/12

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HE WHO ASSERTS A FACT HAS THE BURDEN TO PROVE THOSE FACTS

The appellants in their petition desired the Tribunal to give judgment to them granting them the reliefs they claimed on the basis that the facts they assert in their petition exist. Therefore, they had the primary legal burden to prove the existence of those facts by virtue of S.131(1) of the Evidence Act 2011 which provides that “whoever desires any court to give judgment as to any legal right or liability dependent on the existence of facts which he asserts must” prove that those facts exists.”

— E.A. Agim, JSC. Oyetola v INEC & Ors. (2022) – SC/CV/508/2023

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THREE METHODS OF EVIDENTIAL PROOF

The law is also trite that the three methods of evidential proof as held by the Supreme Court Per, Ogunbiyi, J.S.C in the case of OKASHETU V STATE (2016) LPELR-40611 (SC) are to wit: a. Direct evidence of witnesses; b. Circumstantial evidence; and c. By reliance on a confessional statement of an accused person voluntarily made.

– Adamu Jauro, JSC. Enabeli v. State (2021)

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BURDEN OF PROOF LIES ON THE PLAINTIFF

The general rule in civil cases is that the burden of proof rests upon the party who substantially assert the affirmative before the evidence is gone into. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on the person who will fail assuming no evidence had been adduced on either side…Where the plaintiff as in this case, pleads and relies on negligence by conduct or action of the defendant, the plaintiff must prove by evidence the conduct or action and the circumstances of its occurrence, which give rise to the breach of the duty of care owed the plaintiff. And that it is only after this, that the burden shifts to the defendant to adduce evidence to challenge negligence on his part.

– Shuaibu JCA. Diamond Bank v. Mocok (2019)

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BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON PROSECUTION TO ESTABLISH MURDER

It is however settled law that it is the duty of the prosecution to establish or prove the charge/case against an accused person. In other words, it is the prosecution that bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person. For the court to come to the conclusion that the prosecution has discharged the burden placed on it by law, it must be satisfied that the conclusion is beyond reasonable doubt as it is settled law that any doubt existing in such a case must be resolved in favour of the accused person. In other words, the standard of proof in criminal trials is that of prove beyond reasonable doubt.

— Onnoghen, JSC. Njoku v. The State (2012)

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