A confession is a species of admission. When in the course of an investigation into a criminal offence, a suspect has made a statement to the police tending to show that he has committed that offence, the statement is known as a confession. Confession is governed by rules which assist the court in the administration of justice. This study takes a look at what confession is, its nature and scope. It also considers factors which can make a confessional statement inadmissible and irrelevant. It examines the voluntariness and retraction of a confessional statement as well as confessions of other offences in addition to those charged.
1.0.0: INTRODUCTION It is notorious that the law of evidence has been described as the „engine-room‟ or „power house‟ of both substantive and procedural law. Evidence is concerned with proving or disproving of fact or facts, the foremost question that arises from this therefore is how a claim or guilt can be established. This question hence, necessitates the main aim of writing this essay, which is to consider the attitude of the judiciary towards admission of confessional statements. In this same vein, this work will exhaustively treat what constitute the doctrine of admission and confession in respect to their definitions which has been variously viewed by authors and jurists.
Confession has its origin in the common law of England dating back to the 14th century when the king‟s justices had evidence as to whether a confession was extorted. Also at this time, the predominant method of making an accused give in to trial was torturing him. The practice followed in this trend until the 18th century when an absolute revulsion took place, this revulsion led to the total exclusion of confession on the basis of inducement and undue influence by show of authority and intimidation2. By the middle of the 19th century, England witnessed a complete turn-around which placed its law of confession on its present footing.
Confession in the day to day usage connotes telling the truth about a situation. In other words it is a statement a person makes admitting that they are guilty of a crime. In legal parlance however, a confession is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating and suggesting the inference that he committed the crime. Out of the various means by which criminal cases are established, confessional statement are usually the best for various reasons one of which is that they help in arriving at a just and speedy judgment. However, doubts of all sorts must be cleared as to whether the confessional statement was voluntary or not, this is because a confession is relevant only if it is voluntary4. Voluntary in that it must not be made under threat, promise or inducement; the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubts that a confessional statement was voluntary is on the prosecution, but if such a statement is tainted by involuntariness it is ordinarily inadmissible, unless and until it passes the test of voluntariness conducted in a trial-within-trial, as laid down under Section 27 and 28 of the Evidence Act5 and as shown in the cases of Ehot vs State6 and Ikemson vs State7. Furthermore, a confessional statement will only be admissible against the person who made it8; this is a fundamental principle of common law, therefore, the confession of an accused shall only be held asevidence againsthim and not against a co-accused implicated by such confession. The courts have also held in cases such as Gira vs The State9 that conviction for any crime may be based on a single confession if voluntarily made, in the same vein, in Ibrahim Bature vs The State10, the Supreme Court per Onu, JSC, stated:
…it is settled that if a person makes a free and voluntary confession which is direct, positive, true and unequivocal and made out of consciousness of the necessity to uphold truth even in the face of death, it can and has been held by the Supreme court in several cases, sufficient to support a conviction of murder
So also is the case of Ibrahim vs R11 where Lord Sumner made the classical statement of the common law rule as to admissibility of confessions: it has been established…that no statement by an accused is admissible in evidence against him unless it is shown by the prosecution to have been a voluntary statement, in the sense that it has not been obtained from him either by fear of prejudice or hope of advantage exercised or held out by a person in authority. The foregoing facts explain why prosecutors pursue this brand of evidence with so much zeal in virtually all criminal cases.
1.1.0: BACKGROUND OF STUDY
At common law a confessional statement is admissible against the maker as an exception to the rule against hearsay, since it is thought that self-incriminating remarks are more likely to be true compare to self-serving exonerating remarks. Subsequent researches and experiences of miscarriages of justice have however suggested that self-incriminating remarks may not always be true and that safeguards are needed to prevent confessions being obtained and used improperly. The background of this study is centered on the judiciary‟s attitude as it relates to the admission of confessional statement. It examines the factors the judiciary looks out for before a confessional statement obtained can be relevant or admissible or otherwise in law.
Whether a piece of evidence is admissible or not depends upon whether or not the fact to be established is relevant to the fact in issue. The basic principle is that facts which are relevant are admissible; the reverse is also generally true and that is to say that facts which are irrelevant are inadmissible. The admissibility or otherwise of a confession is majorly based on voluntariness12, though the word „voluntary‟ is not defined in the Evidence Act, some judges, have as a result of this, relied on the English Common law in deciding when a confession is voluntary, this was exemplified in the case of R vs Isaac Ajia.
1.2.0: OBJECTIVE OF STUDY
The entire law of evidence is dependent, in the main, on the rules governing admissibility and inadmissibility of evidence14; it is however, trite to note that just like the word “voluntary” in confession „admissibility‟ is glaringly not defined in the Evidence Act, we are therefore left with no other choice but to rely on the judges‟ opinion on admissibility. The major aim of this study simply put, is to have a critical understanding of the views of the court in relation to admission of confession, it also explains the various elements or factors which can render the confessional statement irrelevant and inadmissible in the court of law15. It is further aimed at proffering some recommendation for reforms in some provisions of the Evidence Act.
1.3.0: SCOPE AND LIMITATION OF STUDY
This essay is within the ambit of law of evidence, and in particular, confession; the concept examines the various rules and statutory provisos governing the admissibility of a confessional statement. This study shall be limited majorly to the Nigerian situation, although a comparative view of confession in other countries such as China and India shall be given.
1.4.0: FOCUS OF STUDY
This study is focused on enabling us know the problems we are faced with in the society today and how it can be solved if adequate consideration is given to it. It is focused at showing the rigors affecting human rights in respect of confessional statement and when a confessional statement obtained from an accused person can be said to be admissible, if obtained in good faith.
1.5.0: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The research intends to source materials from two major sources, that is primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include statutory books while the secondary sources include journal articles by prominent scholars, textbook writers and other relevant materials required to facilitate the purpose of this project.
1.6.0: LITERATURE REVIEW
The subject matter of this study is one under an area of law where quite a number of authors have written and have held different views but have technically arrived at the same basic conclusion, as a result of this, various classical texts by renowned scholars and jurists on the field shall be referred to.
Murphy16 defines confession from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which in its 82(1) defines confession to include: Any statement wholly or partly adverse to the person who made it, whether made to a person in authority or not and whether made in words or otherwise.
The professor of law however opined that the reliability of the confession might be fatally compromised, and the integrity of the system of the system of administration of justice itself made to suffer if such confession was coerced or forced Aguda18, Nwadialo19, C Eche Adah20and others21, hold the same view about confession, although put in their own various languages; Aguda22 defines confession as an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime and if it is voluntary it is deemed to be relevant fact against the person who made it only23. While O.O. Olaseeni in a book of reading in honor of O.O. Akeredolu SAN24, is of a more practical view as he defines confession, in his view, in the course of investigation of criminal trials, police officers record statements volunteered by the accused person, these statements made by the accused are normally tendered in court during the course of trial and if voluntarily taken, such statement will be admitted as confession against the maker. Fidelis Nwadialo25 dealt extensively on procedures for obtaining confessions and conducting trials, he sees confession as a species of admission as held in Anandagoda vs R26 and also in Commissioner of customs vs Harz and Powers27. According to Professor Nokes28 the word „admission‟ is often used as an admission of some fact relevant to a crime, while the term „confession‟ is sometimes confined to a fill admission of guilt. Although species of admissions, confessions are governed by different rules with regard to their admissibility, they are therefore treated separately from other admissions.
Furthermore, statutory provisions like the Evidence Act29, Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code, Criminal Procedure (Statement to Police Officers Rule) 1960, and the 1999 constitution are all statutory provisions ensuring that the processes of the law is followed to the letter. The Evidence Act30 defines confession as an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime.
Similarly, the Black‟s Law Dictionary31 defines confession as a voluntary statement made by a person charged with the commission of a crime or misdemeanor communicated to another person wherein he acknowledges himself to be guilty of the offence charged.
This chapter focuses on introducing the topic of this work. It gives broad introduction of concepts and ideas as they relate to confessional statements both under the common law and the Nigerian Law of Evidence. The aims and objectives of this work are examined; the method of research employed was also explained.
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