CORROBORATION

The general rule is that there is no specific number of witnesses required to prove a case. One witness whose evidence is credible is enough to secure judgement in any civil or criminal trial. The court is not concerned with the number of witnesses called but in the quality of evidence given by the parties[1]. Corroboration acts as an exception to this general rule.

Corroboration can be defined as any evidence which confirms, supports or strengthens another piece of evidence. It is that evidence which tends to confirm or strengthens the testimony of a witness or a particular piece of evidence. The requirement of corroboration could be as a result of statute or judicial practice. The importance of corroboration lies in the fact that when it is required as a matter of law but is not given in the case, the appellate court may set aside the judgement on that ground. Similarly, where evidence is not corroboration but was mistakenly treated as corroboration, the judgement secured at the lower court may be set aside on appeal. The lawyer therefore must be painstaking in looking at the requirements of the law whether the evidence requires corroboration or not otherwise this could be fatal to his case.

The Nature of Corroboration
Any evidence to be used as corroboration must be independent of the evidence sought to be corroborated. In other words, it must be independent of or extraneous from the evidence sought to be corroborated. This is because the law prohibits self-corroboration. In R v Whitehead, the defendant was accused of having had unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl of the age of fifteen years whilst she was in his service. A few months after, the girl’s mother suspected she was pregnant and questioned her as a result of which the girl narrated the incident. At the trial court, the girl’s mother gave evidence to corroborate the girl’s story. The mother’s evidence was accepted as corroboration. On appeal, the court held that both directions were wrong. The court noted that any inference as to what the girl told her mother could not amount to corroboration of the girl’s story, as it proceeded from the girl herself and the girl could not corroborate herself. Thus, the nature of evidence to be used as corroboration must be distinct from what is being corroborated.
Please note also that in a criminal trial, such evidence to be used as corroboration must show or tend to show the commission of the offence and the accused person’s implication in it (Francis Okpanefe v The State). In other words, the corroborative evidence must suggest that the accused committed the offence; it must implicate him. In Olaleye v The State, the appellant was said to have raped a girl of 14. The girl was examined and was found to have the same gonorrhea found in the man accused of the rape. The judge held that the presence of the same type of gonorrhea in the girl is enough as circumstantial corroborative evidence.
We should also note that evidence to be used as corroboration could take different dimensions; oral, material or any object, texts on phones, conduct of the party. See Bessela v Stern and Weidman v. Walpole. These cases are to the effect that corroboration is not limited to oral and documentary evidence.

The various situations where corroboration is required
·                    Corroboration as a matter of statute (statutory corroboration)
·                    Statutory warning
·                    Corroboration as a matter of judicial practice

·                    Statutory Corroboration
a.                 Treason and treasonable felonies[2]:
No one can be convicted of the offence of treason or treasonable felony unless it is corroborated by evidence of two witnesses to an overt act or one witness to an overt act and the other witness to another overt act. The corroboration by these witnesses must be made in an open court. In Omisade v The State, the Supreme Court held that pieces of evidence from witnesses could add up to make an overt act or some overt acts are enough. See also Enahoro v The State.
There are situations where corroboration will not be required. The first situation is where the alleged act of treason involves the killing of the president or a direct attempt to endanger his life or injure his person, evidence of corroboration isn’t required[3]. Also, note that corroboration would not be required where the accused person has pleaded guilty of the offence.
b.                 Perjury[4]:
A person shall not be convicted of committing perjury or for counselling or procuring the commission of perjury, upon the uncorroborated testimony of one witness contradicting the oath on which perjury is assigned, unless circumstances are proved which corroborated such witness….. See R v. Ogunubi.
c.                  Exceeding speed limit:
A person who is charged under the Road Traffic Act with the offence of driving at excessive speed or a speed which is greater than the allowed maximum can’t be convicted based on the evidence of a single witness[5].
In such situation, evidence of two witnesses to the effect that in their opinion, the accused was driving at excessive speed will be necessary. In the absence of two witnesses, the speedometer of the vehicle may provide the needed corroboration. In Nicholas v Penny, in the absence of the evidence of two witnesses, the court relied on the speedometer of the vehicle as evidence of corroboration.
d.                 Sedition[6]:
A person can’t be convicted of the offence of uttering seditious words under S. 51 of the Criminal Code unless the testimony of the witness is corroborated. In Chike Obi v The State, the accused was distributing leaflets to people on the streets of Lagos making certain disparaging comments against the then government. Apart from the evidence of the people who received the leaflets, the leaflets were also admitted as evidence of corroboration. But it has been held in Arthur Nwankwo v The State that the offence of sedition is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution (right to freedom of speech).
e.                  Breach of promise of marriage[7]:
No plaintiff in an action for breach of promise of marriage shall succeed unless his or her testimony is corroborated by other material evidence. In Bessela v Stern, the plaintiff gave the evidence that the defendant promised to marry her. A witness called by her, who was her sister, deposed to the fact that she had heard her say to him, ‘you always promise to marry me and you don’t keep your word’ and that the defendant made no reply to that apart from giving the plaintiff money and asking her to go away. The corroboration by the sister was upheld by the court.
f.                   Unsworn evidence of a child:
Where a child (who has not attained the age of 14) has given unsworn evidence, the evidence must be supported by other material evidence[8] otherwise the accused would not be convicted upon the uncorroborated evidence of the child. See Onyegbu v The state, Ogunsi v The state, Mbeli v The state.

·                    Statutory Warning
It is the hybrid of judicial practice and statute. Here, the law doesn’t mandate the court to ask for additional evidence corroborating the primary evidence. Rather, the law warns the court that it is unsafe to convict a person on the uncorroborated evidence against the accused person. The implication of this is that the court may or may not seek corroborating evidence in such cases.
A typical example in this regard is the proviso to S. 198(1) EA with regard to accomplices. In the case of evidence of accomplice, corroboration is not needed as a matter of law but the court is expected to direct itself that it is unsafe to convict any person upon such evidence. See Odofin Bello v The state and Mailayi v The state. As to the nature of the warning itself which the court should administer, the court in the case of Batiri v Police noted: “the proper approach is for the court to say it is unsafe to convict on uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice or can it be safe to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice and not to say I have warned myself that is unsafe to convict”.
·                    Corroboration as a Matter of Judicial Practice
a.                  Agent Provocateur:
An agent provocateur is a person employed to induce others to break the law so that they can be convicted. In other words, an agent provocateur is an instigator or a person who incites or facilitates the commission of the offence.
In the investigation of crimes, law enforcement agents like Police, DSS, Customs, EFCC etc. are allowed to make use of spies and detectives in order to arrest offenders. The general rule is that the evidence of such spies are admissible and may not need statutory corroboration but the judge is expected to take such evidence with greatest caution. In R v Israel David, the three accused persons had an agreement to sell a youth. The third accused person made an arrangement with a native doctor to bring buyers. The native doctor reported the matter to the Police who advised him to play along. The native doctor brought two police officers who pretended to be the prospective buyers of the boy. After agreement as to the price (300 pounds) of the youth, the officers/buyers paid the price with marked currencies. It was after the transaction was concluded and payment was made that the officers revealed their identities and apprehended the three sellers.  The question before the court was whether the evidence presented by the agent provocateur was admissible. The court noted that though the use of such agents in the detection of crime had received strong condemnations from judges, it couldn’t dismiss the evidence as inadmissible. The court stated that in such a situation, it is the duty of a court before which it is admitted to warn itself that it is unsafe to convict upon it unless it is corroborated in some material particular by independent evidence tending to show both that the alleged crime was committed and that the accused participated in it. The court further noted that in such instance, the independent evidence capable of corroborating the evidence of the two police officers and the native doctor against each accused was the evidence supplied by the youth who was the intended victim of the alleged conspiracy and attempt against each accused. The youth’s evidence was in fact held to corroborate the prosecution’s evidence.

b.                 Evidence of co-accused:
Where two or more have been charged with a crime, one of the accused may give evidence which implicates the other co-accused. Such evidence will be acceptable to the court without corroboration. See S. 180 and 199 EA. However, as a matter of judicial practice, the court should warn itself of the danger of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of one accused. See Ukut v The state.

c.                  Sworn evidence of a child:
This part deals with the evidence of a child who has attained the age of 14. It can be recalled that such child can give sworn evidence under S. 209(2) EA. As a matter of judicial practice, the court may look for corroboration before convicting the accused.
d.                 Tainted witness:
A tainted witness is a witness who has his own interest to serve. The interest may be pecuniary or it may be as a result of blood relationship. Evidence of a tainted witness though admissible must be treated with caution by the court. See R v Prater.
e.                  Rape:
Corroboration of the evidence of a witness is not required except where the law demands it. Evidence of corroboration of the evidence of the victim in rape cases is not a requirement
as a matter of law but only in practice. In other words in cases of sexual character it is
eminently desirable that the evidence of the prosecutrix or complainant should be strengthened by other evidence implicating the accused person in some material particulars. It is however not the law that the accused person in a charge of rape cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the prosecutrix[9].
In the State v. Ogwudiegwe, it was held that in order for the prosecution to secure a conviction for the offence of rape, corroboration of the evidence of the complainant implicating the accused is not essential but a judge must warn himself of the risk of convicting on an uncorroborated evidence of the complainant.
For the offence of rape under S. 357 C.C., the court must warn itself or look for corroboration before convicting an accused. In Edet Okon Iko v The state. The SC noted: “When rape is denied by the accused, the sort of corroboration the court must look for is medical evidence showing injury to the private part of the complainant, injury to other parts of her body which may have been occasioned in the struggle, seminar stains on the cloth of the accused or on the place where the offence was alleged to have committed”.


[1] S. 200 EA 2011.
[2] S. 201(1) EA.
[3] S. 201(2) EA.
[4] S. 202 EA. 
[5] S. 203 EA
[6] S. 204 EA.
[7] S. 197 EA.
[8] S. 209(3) EA.
[9] Hassan Ibrahim v The State.

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