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Legal Dictionary

hearsay

Legal Definition of hearsay

Noun

  1. Any evidence that is offered by a witness of which they do not have direct knowledge but, rather, their testimony is based on what others have said to them.

    Example: If Bob heard from Susan about an accident that Susan witnessed but that Bob had not, and Bob attempted to repeat Susan's story in court, it could be objected to as "hearsay." The basic rule, when testifying in court, is that you can only provide information of which you have direct knowledge. In other words, hearsay evidence is not allowed. Hearsay evidence is also referred to as "second-hand evidence" or as "rumor." You are able to tell a court what you heard, to repeat the rumor, and testify that, in fact, the story you heard was told to you, but under the hearsay rule, your testimony would not be evidence of the actual facts of the story but only that you heard those words spoken.

Definition of hearsay

Pronunciation

Noun

hearsay (uncountable)

  1. information that was heard by one person about another
  2. (law) evidence based on the reports of others rather than on personal knowledge; normally inadmissible because not made under oath
  3. (law) evidence: an out-of-court statement offered in court for the truth of the matter asserted; normally inadmissible because not subject to cross-examination, unless the hearsay statement falls under one of the many exceptions

Synonyms

  • report
  • rumor
  • common talk
  • gossip

Further reading

Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, "hearsay" can also have the narrower meaning of the use of such information as evidence to prove the truth of what is asserted. Such use of "hearsay evidence" in court is generally not allowed. This prohibition is called the hearsay rule.

For example, a witness says "Susan told me Tom was in town". Since the witness did not see Tom in town, the statement would be hearsay evidence to the fact that Tom was in town, and not admissible. However, it would be admissible as evidence that Susan said Tom was in town, and on the issue of her knowledge of whether he was in town.

There are a number of significant exceptions to the hearsay rule.

United States

Unless one of the many exceptions applies, hearsay is not allowed as evidence in the United States. Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, hearsay is generally admissible in civil proceedings but is only admissible in criminal proceedings if it falls within a statutory or common law exception, all of the parties to the proceedings agree, or the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice that the evidence is admissible.

Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides that where a witness is unavailable, hearsay is admissible where: a) the relevant person is dead; b) the relevant person is unfit to be a witness because of his bodily or mental condition; c) the relevant person is outside the UK and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance; d) the relevant person cannot be found; e) through fear, the relevant person does not give oral evidence in the proceedings and the court gives leave for the statement to be given in evidence.

The two main common law exceptions to the rule that hearsay is inadmissible are res gestae and confessions.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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