Rules of evidence govern whether, when, how, and for what purpose, proof of a legal case may be placed before a trier of fact for consideration.
In the legal systems of Canada and the United States, the trier of fact may be a judge or a jury, depending on the purpose of the trial and the choices of the parties.
The rules of evidence were developed over several centuries and are based upon the rules from Anglo-American common law brought to the New World by early settlers. Their purpose is to be fair to both parties, disallowing the raising of allegations without a basis in provable fact. They are sometimes criticized as a legal technicality, but are an important part of the system for achieving a just result.
Prevailing in court requires a good understanding of the rules of evidence in the given venue. The rules vary depending upon whether the venue is a criminal court, civil court or family court, and they vary by jurisdiction. One reason to have a lawyer, among others, is that he or she should be familiar with the rules of evidence. If one were allowed simply to tell the court what one knew to be the truth, and how one knew it, one might prevail. However, the rules of evidence may prohibit one from presenting one's story just as one likes.
Perhaps the most important of the Rules of Evidence is that, in general, hearsay testimony is inadmissible (although there are many exceptions to this rule). This makes it impossible for the accuser to induce friends or family to give false evidence in support of their accusations because, normally, this evidence would be rejected by the presiding authority or judge. There are several examples where presiding authorities are not bound by the rules of evidence. These include the military tribunals established by the United States of America and tribunals used in Australia to try health professionals.
Some important rules involve relevance, privilege, witnesses, opinions, expert testimony, hearsay, authenticity, identification and rules of physical evidence.
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