Distinctions Between Oral and Documentary Evidence in Legal Proceedings

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Distinctions Between Oral and Documentary Evidence in Legal Proceedings


Evidence, a crucial aspect of legal proceedings, encompasses a collection of information that either supports or refutes a matter. The Evidence Act of 1872 in India classifies evidence into two main categories: Oral and Documentary Evidence.

Definition of Oral Evidence

Oral Evidence encompasses verbal expressions, gestures, or observed actions that a witness personally perceives. It plays a central role in directly establishing the relevant facts. According to Section 3 of the Evidence Act, “Oral Evidence” refers to statements mandated or permitted by the court from witnesses regarding matters of fact under investigation. Any information acknowledged in court and conveyed by a witness is considered oral evidence in the course of a trial.

As per Section 59 of the Evidence Act:

Every fact and event can be conveyed through oral evidence, except for the contents of documents and electronic recordings.

Regarding the Contents of Documents and Electronic Recordings:

Establishing the contents of documents and electronic recordings through spoken testimony is considered impractical.

Oral Evidence Must Be Direct (Section 60)

Section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act lays down a fundamental principle governing the admission of evidence in court. It mandates that for oral evidence to be admissible, it must meet the criteria set forth in this section. The crucial element is the term “direct,” explicitly barring any forms of hearsay evidence. Every witness presenting oral testimony is required to satisfy the condition of providing information directly. Legal Precedent on Oral Evidence

Case Law Of Oral Evidence

Amar Singh v.s  Chhaju Singh and another

In the legal matter of Amar Singh v. Chhaju Singh and Another, the court drew a connection between Section 50 and Section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act. It asserted that for evidence to be deemed comprehensive, it necessitates the satisfaction of two conditions: the existence of relevant facts and their direct presentation by a witness who has observed or heard them.

State v. Rajal Anand

In the legal case State v. Rajal Anand, the court concluded that Section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act explicitly includes the term “direct,” thereby barring hearsay evidence. However, an exception to this prohibition on hearsay is introduced through the Res-gestae doctrine. This doctrine allows a person who has experienced a series of relevant events to provide testimony, even if they did not directly witness the commission of the crime, and such testimony is deemed admissible.

Documentary Evidence

Documentary evidence is defined as any physical or digital document submitted to the court with the intention of verifying or substantiating a fact. This category falls within Chapter 5 of the Indian Evidence Act, encompassing Sections 61 to 90A. These sections lay out general principles for establishing the authenticity of documentary evidence in diverse situations. Notably, Sections 61 through 66 specifically address methods for proving the content of a document.

Types of Documentary Evidence

There exist two distinct types of documentary evidence: public documents and private documents.

Public Documents

Public documents, as defined in Section 74 of the Evidence Act, encompass certified copies issued by an authority and reproductions of entries contained in public registers, books, or records that pertain to relevant facts. Examples of public documents include birth and marriage certificates, First Information Reports (FIRs) filed with the police, and utility bills.

Private Documents

Private documents, falling under Section 75 of the Evidence Act, consist of correspondence exchanged between parties involved in a legal dispute, such as letters, agreements, emails, and similar items.

Courts generally give more credibility to public documents because they are less susceptible to tampering. Furthermore, the ability to trace public documents back to a trustworthy source aids in verification as required.

Primary Evidence

As per Section 62 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, primary evidence stands as the most reliable form of evidence, offering the highest certainty regarding the pertinent fact. It is frequently described as the most reliable or paramount evidence. In instances where a transaction is documented in writing, the original document itself, if available, must be presented in its unaltered state to validate the terms of the transaction. Section 64 establishes the requirement that documents should be proven solely through their primary evidence. However, Section 65 permits the use of supporting evidence in specific circumstances.

Primary evidence, as defined by Section 62 Explanations, includes the following unique situations:

  • In cases where a document is composed of sections, each segment of the document serves as its primary proof.
  • When a document is signed in counterparts, each counterpart functions as the primary evidence against the signatory parties.
  • As per the alternative interpretation of Section 62, when several documents stem from an original through a consistent method, each document is regarded as primary evidence for the information found in the others. However, in the case of the remaining copies, the primary evidence is applied when multiple documents stem from the same original through the identical process

Secondary Evidence

In accordance with Section 63 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, secondary evidence is defined as any evidence that is not considered primary evidence. This section enumerates five distinct items acknowledged as secondary evidence, including:

  • Copies of documents that have been officially verified as accurate representations.
  • Copies generated through mechanical means or reproduced from the original document, and copies that have been verified against the original.
  • Documents that have been authenticated by signatures of individuals who were not the original signatories.
  • Verbal accounts of the content of a document provided by an individual who has physically read the document.
  • Copies produced through mechanical processes and duplicates that have been verified against the original are admissible as secondary evidence. However, a “copy of a copy” is generally not admissible as secondary evidence.

Cases of Documentary Evidence

Case: Amitabh Bagchi v. Ena Bagchi

In the legal matter of Amitabh Bagchi v. Ena Bagchi, the court permitted the recording of the husband’s statements through video conferencing, emphasizing the importance of maintaining customary safeguards. The court explicitly recognized the acceptability of employing electronic methods for capturing witness statements.

Case: Bodala Murali Krishna v. Bodala Prathima

In the case of Bodala Murali Krishna v. Bodala Prathima, the court ruled that while recording evidence through video conferencing, standard safeguards must be upheld. The decision highlighted the necessity of ensuring procedural fairness and adherence to established protocols in such technological proceedings.

Case: State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sindhu

In the matter of State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sindhu, the accused faced convictions under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The primary evidence presented in court consisted of call records from the accused’s phone. The court clarified that cellular phone records are considered secondary evidence, with the primary evidence being the records maintained by telecom servers. Despite the non-compliance with certification requirements under Section 65B(4), the court allowed the evidence under Sections 63 and 65 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Case: Anvar P.V. v. P.K. Basheer

In the case of Anvar P.V. v. P.K. Basheer, the court-mandated the certification of electronic evidence, asserting that Section 65B is a specific provision that must be adhered to. This decision marked a departure from previous practices where certification was not consistently enforced, underscoring the newfound importance placed on complying with the specified provisions.

Distinction Between Oral and Documentary Evidence

 Oral EvidenceDocumentary Evidence
DefinitionOral evidence involves the witness’s testimony in court concerning matters under inquiry.  Documentary evidence is evidence presented to the court in the form of a document.  
Scope  Oral evidence falls under the governance of sections 59 and 60 of the Indian Evidence Act.  Documentary evidence is subject to sections 61 to 66 of the Indian Evidence Act.  
FormOral testimony must be direct and in accordance with any preceding statements given.  Documentary evidence must be substantiated by either primary or secondary evidence.  
SubmissionOral evidence is presented through voice, speech, or symbols and is recorded in court.  Evidence in document form is presented through materials encompassing words, symbols, letters, figures, and annotations.  
Importance  Documentary evidence is commonly considered more reliable and trustworthy than oral evidence, owing to its enduring nature and the ability to verify its authenticity.  In many cases, the existence of documentary evidence may obviate the need for oral evidence, although oral evidence may still be required in certain circumstances.  


In legal proceedings, both oral and documentary evidence assume crucial roles. Oral evidence depends on verbal statements provided by witnesses in the courtroom, whereas documentary evidence is based on written records or tangible objects. Each form of evidence comes with distinct characteristics, advantages, and limitations.

Oral evidence may exhibit greater subjectivity and susceptibility to error, whereas documentary evidence tends to be more reliable and enduring. The court, guided by the specifics of each case and the relevant rules of evidence, determines the admissibility and weight of the evidence.

Frequently asked questions

What is the primary distinction between oral and documentary evidence?

Oral evidence involves witness testimony in court, relying on verbal expressions, gestures, or observed actions. In contrast, documentary evidence is presented in the form of physical or digital documents to substantiate or verify a fact.

What governs the admissibility of oral evidence in legal proceedings?

The admissibility of oral evidence is governed by Sections 59 and 60 of the Indian Evidence Act. Section 60 specifies that oral evidence must be direct, excluding hearsay, and witnesses must satisfy conditions for providing information directly.

What types of documents fall under the category of documentary evidence?

: Documentary evidence includes public documents (e.g., certified copies of official records) and private documents (e.g., correspondence between parties in a legal dispute) as defined in Sections 74 and 75 of the Evidence Act, respectively.

When can secondary evidence be admitted in court?

Secondary evidence, defined in Section 63, includes copies, reproductions, and verbal accounts. It is admissible when primary evidence is unavailable or in specific circumstances outlined in the Evidence Act.

Can electronic evidence be admitted in court proceedings?

Yes, electronic evidence can be admitted, but adherence to specific provisions, such as Section 65B regarding certification, is crucial. Instances like the legal precedent in Anvar P.V. v. P.K. Basheer highlight the crucial nature of adhering to these provisions.

Read more

Examination of Witness as per the Indian Evidence Act,1872

Comprehending the Plea of Alibi in the Indian Evidence Act: Elements, Implementation, and Precedents

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