Presumptions in the Nigerian Evidence Law

Topics: Legal burden of proof, Law, Evidence law Pages: 20 (7180 words) Published: December 20, 2012


As a general and fundamental rule in the law of evidence, facts on which a court can base its decision in any proceedings must be proved to exist by evidence.

Nevertheless, the proof of the existence of some classes of facts is dispensed with. Such facts include: facts presumed, facts admitted for the purpose of trial and facts judicially noticeable. This research work basically deals with facts presumed i.e. presumptions.

In the course of discussion, this work shall treat the meaning, rationale and general principles of presumptions. The work also looked the types of presumptions and the slight differences, existing therein; conflicting presumptions and the researcher’s recommendation.

Meaning, Effect and General Principles of Presumptions.

The repealed Evidence Act, 2004 and the Evidence Act did not define presumptions.

According to Blacks’ Law Dictionary, presumption is a legal inference or assumption that a fact exists, based on the known or proved existence of some other fact or group of facts. Also, a presumption is a conclusion which may or must be drawn from a given set of facts until the contrary is proven.
Though the Evidence Act does not expressly define “presumptions”, a close textual perusal of Section 4 yields the following definition: “A conclusion which a court either has an obligation or discretion to draw from a set of facts presented to it.

Presumptions in the law of evidence have the effect of shifting the burden of production or persuasion to the opposing party, who can attempt to overcome the presumption by rebutting it where it is rebuttable. The effect of a presumption is that it tends to establish a fact, dispensing with the provision of any or complete proof. Hence, providing a substitute for evidence in favour of the party in whose favour such presumption exists.

Where there are two conflicting presumptions arising from the same facts, they cancel each other and the position is as if none of them is applicable. The following are the rationale for the making of presumptions in the law of evidence: policy, fairness as to possession of evidence and probability. Classification of Presumptions.

The orthodox classification of presumptions amidst contentions amongst text writers is as follows: a.Presumption of Facts (praesumptiones hominis).
b.Presumption of Law (praesumptiones iuris sed non de iuris). This is further divided in to rebuttable and irrebuttable presumptions of law. This classification has been faulted by Lord Denning as being insignificant as to the difference in their meanings which does not connote any difference in legal effect. Learned scholars are of the view that the modern classification of presumptions now excludes irrebuttable presumption of law and presumption of facts. The researcher respectfully disagrees with this ‘modern classification’ for the following reasons: a.Although slight in some cases, there are still differences amongst the various types of presumptions based on the orthodox classification. b.Undeniably, irrebuttable presumptions , being mandatory have a significant role in the adjudicatory process in litigation and can upset the decision of a trial court where not recognised. Fidelis Nwadialo drew the following distinctions between presumptions of law and presumptions of facts as follows: a.The authority behind a presumption of law is the law while that behind a presumption of fact is logic. The researcher respectfully submits that this distinction is almost insignificant as certain presumptions of are contained in provisions of statutes. b.The facts from which the various presumptions of law are made are fixed and uniform while presumptions of fact are based on the facts of individual cases. c.Rebuttable presumptions of law determine whom the burden of proof of an issue lies. d.Presumptions of law are drawn by the court but presumptions of facts are drawn by the...
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