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Evidence in Civil Proceedings

‘Civil’ cases are between two people (called ‘parties’) and happen when one claims something from, or in respect of, the other – for example, money owed, or a liquidation order, or a decree of divorce, and so on. Criminal cases, on the other hand, are where the State prosecutes an accused person for contravening the criminal laws1 of the land. Here, the Criminal Procedure Act,2 for example, establishes offences for certain conduct in relation to criminal trials.

The Civil Proceedings Evidence Act 19653 falls under the authority of the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. It has two important provisions that are relevant for present purposes.

  1. Often, public documents, or official certificates, are required in legal proceedings to prove one thing or another. (Proof of birth, or the registration of a company, are examples.) Ordinarily, the law is that the original must be produced in the proceedings. The Act provides, however, that a copy, certified by a state official as being a true copy, or a true extract from the official records, is acceptable instead of the original. If any one certifies an extract or copy falsely, it is a criminal offence.4

  2. When people give evidence in a court case, they take an ‘oath’, or ‘affirmation’, that the evidence they give is true and correct. To breach this oath is the criminal offence of perjury. Sometimes, a witness may not understand the implications of such an oath, whether because he is uneducated, too young, ignorant, or whatever. Then the presiding officer will caution him to tell the truth. This is called an admonition (i.e. ‘warning’). If, thereafter, the person knowingly gives false evidence, he is guilty of the offence of perjury.5

  1. In addition to the ones set out in this book, there are many so-called ‘common law’ crimes. These are part of the law of the land, but there is no specific statute which creates the offence in question. Murder and robbery are a few examples. See the Chapter ‘Common Law Offences’. 

  2. See the Chapter ‘Procedure for Criminal Trials’. 

  3. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 49 of 1996. 

  4. Section 21. 

  5. Section 41(2).