Prima facie (pronounced /ˈpraɪmə ˈfeɪʃɨ.iː/, from Latin prīmā faciē) is a Latin expression meaning on its first appearance, or at first sight. The literal translation would be "at first face", prima first, facie face, both in the ablative case. It is used in modern legal English to signify that on first examination, a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts. In common law jurisdictions, prima facie denotes evidence which – unless rebutted – would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact. The term is used similarly in academic philosophy.
Most legal proceedings require a prima facie case to exist, following which proceedings may then commence to test it, and create a ruling. This may be called facile princeps, first principles.
Burden of proof
In most legal proceedings, one party has a burden of proof, which requires it to present prima facie evidence for all of the essential facts in its case. If they cannot, its claim may be dismissed without any need for a response by other parties. A prima facie case might not stand or fall on its own; if an opposing party introduces other evidence or asserts an affirmative defense it can only be reconciled with a full trial. Sometimes the introduction of prima facie evidence is informally called making a case or building a case.
For example, in a trial under criminal law the prosecution has the burden of presenting prima facie evidence of each element of the crime charged against the defendant. In a murder case, this would include evidence that the victim was in fact dead, that the defendant's act caused the death, and evidence that the defendant acted with intent (note malice aforethought is no longer necessarily). If no party introduces new evidence the case stands or falls just by the prima facie evidence.
Prima facie evidence need not be conclusive or irrefutable: at this stage, evidence rebutting the case is not considered, only whether any party's case has enough merit to take it to a full trial.
In some jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, the prosecution in a criminal trial must disclose all evidence to the defence. This includes the prima facie evidence.
An aim of the doctrine of prima facie is to prevent litigants bringing spurious charges which simply waste all other parties' time.
Res ipsa loquitur
Prima facie is often confused with res ipsa loquitur ("the thing speaks for itself"), the common law doctrine that when the facts make it self-evident that negligence or other responsibility lies with a party, it is not necessary to provide extraneous details, since any reasonable person would immediately find the facts of the case.
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