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EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE AND IMAGINARY SCALE

Dictum

Re-evaluation suggests and presupposes a prior evaluation. If evidence has already been evaluated by the trial Court, on what grounds, on what basis, on what principles would an appellate court undertake another re-evaluation of the same evidence? Before tackling this main issue, it may be necessary to dispose of a subsidiary but related issue: What does evaluation of evidence consist of? What is the meaning of the expression evaluation? To evaluate simply means to give value to, to ascertain the amount, to find numerical expression for etc. Thus if a plaintiffs case is supported by witnesses, while the defendant’s case is supported by 6 witnesses then the numerical expression, the quantum of evidence, the amount, would be 4 to 6. If cases are decided solely by the number of witnesses called by either side, then in the above instance the plaintiff will lose, having a preponderance of 6 witnesses to 4 witnesses in the scale against him. Now talking of scale naturally leads one to the famous dictum of Fatayi Williams, J.S.C.(as he then was) in A.R. Mogaji and ors v. Madam Rabiatu Odafin and ors (1978) 4 S.C.91 at 93:- “When an appellant complains that a judgment is against the weight of evidence, all he means is that when the evidence adduced by him is balanced against that adduced by the respondent, the judgment given in favour of the respondent is against the weight which have been given to the totality of the evidence before him, (the trial Judge) ….. Therefore in deciding whether certain set of facts given in evidence by one party in a civil case before a court in which both parties appear is preferable to another set of facts given in evidence by the other party, the trial Judge, after a summary of all the facts, must put the two sets of facts on an imaginary scale, weigh one against the other, then decide upon the preponderance of credible evidence which weighs more, accept it in preference to the other, and then apply the appropriate law to it ….” (italics ours). This scale though imaginary is still the scale of justice, and the scale of truth. Such a scale will automatically repel and expel any and all false evidence. What ought to go into that imaginary scale should therefore be no other than credible evidence. What is therefore necessary in deciding what goes into the imaginary scale is the value, credibility and quality as well as the probative essence of the evidence.

— Oputa JSC. Onwuka & Ors. V. Ediala & Anor. (SC.18/1987, 20 January 1989)

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GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

However, when the evaluation of evidence by a particular trial judge is in issue or being challenged, the guiding principles are as follows: (i) whether the evidence is admissible (ii) whether the evidence is relevant (iii) whether the evidence is credible (iv) whether the evidence is conclusive (v) Whether the evidence is probable than that given by the other Party.

– O. Ariwoola, JSC. Tukur v. Uba (2012) – SC.390/2011

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COURT OF APPEAL CAN EVALUATE DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE

By way of prefatory remarks, I must place on record, that documentary evidence form the corpus and integral part of the case. Interestingly, the law, in order to remedy and expel injustice from proceedings, donates concurrent jurisdiction to this Court and the lower Court in evaluation of documentary evidence, see Gonzee (Nig.) Ltd. v. NERDC (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 943) 634; Olagunju v. Adesoye(2009) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1146) 225; Ayuya v. Yonrin (2011) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1254) 135; Eyiboh v. Abia (2012) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1325) 51; Odutola v. Mabogunje (2013) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1354); CPC v. Ombugadu (2013) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1385) 66; UTC (Nig) Plc v. Lawal (2014) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1400) 221; Ogundalu v. Macjob (2015) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1460) 96; Onwuzuruike v. Edoziem (2016) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1508) 215; Ezechukwu v. Onwuka (2016) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1506) 529; C.K. & W.M.C. Ltd. v. Akingbade (2016) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1533) 487.

— O.F. Ogbuinya, JCA. Impact Solutions v. International Breweries (2018) – CA/AK/122/2016

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EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE REMAINS EXCLUSIVE PRESERVE OF TRIAL COURT

The settled principle of law is that it is the trial court which alone has the primary function of fully considering the totality of evidence placed before it, ascribe probative value to it. Put same on the imaginary scale of justice to determine the party in whose favour the balance tilts, make the necessary findings of facts flowing therefrom, apply the relevant law to the findings and come to the logical conclusion. The evaluation of evidence remains the exclusive preserve of the trial Court because of the its singular opportunity of hearing and watching the demeanour of witnesses as they testify and thus the court best suited to assess their credibility of a witness an appellate court would not ordinarily interfere.

— F.F. Tabai, JSC. Mini Lodge v. Ngei (2009) – SC.231/2006

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DUTY OF TRIAL COURTS IN EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

“In carrying out the evaluation of evidence, a Court is not to merely review or restate the evidence, but it is expected to critically appraise it in the light of the facts in issue, what is relevant, admissible and what weight is to be attached. In other words, the evaluation of evidence is much more critical, crucial and tasking than a mere review of evidence. For unlike the review of evidence, its actual evaluation involves a reasonable belief of the evidence of one of the contending parties and disbelief of the other, or the reasoned preference of one version to the other. There must be an indication on the record of the Court to show how the trial Court arrived at its conclusion preferring one piece of evidence to the other. Thus, the act of reaching conclusions by drawing necessary inference is a product of a legal mind and not an indulgence in speculation – Aregbesola V Olagunsoye (2011) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1253) 458; Olonade V Sowemimo (2014) 9 SCM 106, 121, per MD Muhammad, JSC; Michael V Access Bank (2017) LPELR-41981(CA)13.”

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Ibrahim Muli v Sali Akwai (2021) – CA/G/423/2019

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DUTY OF TRIAL COURT; PERCEPTION & EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

There is a duty in a trial court to receive all available relevant evidence on an issue. This is perception of evidence. After that there is another duty to weigh that evidence in the context of the surrounding circumstances of the case. This is evaluation of evidence. A finding of fact will entail both perception and evaluation. But very often in actual practice it is difficult to say when perception ends and evaluation begins.

– Oputa JSC. OLUFOSOYE v. OLORUNFEMI (1989)

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THE APPELLATE COURT IS IN A GOOD POSITION TO EVALUATE EVIDENCE AS THE TRIAL JUDGE

Indeed, if there is a complaint that a trial judge did not make findings based on the evidence placed before him, the appellate court is in as good position as the trial court to do its own evaluation of the evidence contained in the records of appeal. See: Narumai and Sons Nig. Ltd v. Niger Benue Transport Co Ltd (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt.106) 730. And where the appellate court finds that there are inadequacies on the part of the trial judge in reaching his decision or finding that is perverse, the appellate court has a duty to examine the inferences and conclusions drawn by the trial judge and then re-evaluate the evidence in order to come to its own judgment, to see that justice is done. See: Atolagbe v. Shorun (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt.2) 360; Eki v. Giwa (1977) 2 SC, 131; Lion Building Ltd v. Shadipe (1976) 12 SC 135.

— T.S. YAKUBU, JCA. Fayose v ICN (2012) – CA/AE/58/2010

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