Definition of trier of fact
trier of fact (plural triers of fact)
- (law) A person or group of people given the responsibility of determining the facts of a case from evidence presented in a legal proceeding.
A trier of fact (or finder of fact) is a person who determines facts in a legal proceeding. To determine a fact is to decide, from the evidence, whether something existed or some event occurred. In a jury trial, the jury is the trier of fact. The jury finds the facts and applies them to the law it is instructed by the judge to use in order to reach its verdict. Thus, in a jury trial, the findings of fact are made by the jury while the judge makes legal rulings as to what evidence will be heard by the jury and what law governs the case. Jurrors are instructed to strictly follow the law as given by the judge, but are in no way obligated to do so. In some cases this amounts to jury nullification, i.e. the jury effectively re-writing the law or blatantly ignoring it in a particular case.
In a "bench trial," or non-jury trial, a judge is the trier of fact. In a bench trial, the judge makes both findings of fact and rulings of law.
It is recognised that a judge of first instance enjoys a particular advantage in that he has himself observed the witness. "Witnesses without any conscious bias towards a conclusion may have in their demeanour, in their manner, in their hesitation, in the nuance of their expressions, in even the turns of the eyelid, left an impression upon the man who saws and heard them which can never be reproduced in the printed page." Accordingly the findings of the judge of first instance as to the credibility and reliability of witnesses ... cannot normally be disturbed by an appellate court.
In Anglo-American based legal systems, finding of fact made by the jury are not appealable unless clearly wrong to any reasonable person. This principle is enshrined in the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that "...no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
Notes and references
- W A Wilson, 'A Note on Fact and Law' (1963) 26 MLR 609, at p 613.
- W A Wilson, 'A Note on Fact and Law' (1963) 26 MLR 609 - For discussion of affirmation of propositions to establish a legal conclusion - "Truth-questions", "Description- / Linguistic-questions", and "Probability-questions"
- Per Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, Clarke v. Edinburgh and District Tramways Co., 1919 S.C.(H.L.) 35, at p 36.
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