Corroborative Evidence simply means Supportive Evidence. The word “corroboration” itself was derived from latin – “robus”, and English word “robust” meaning to support. Corroboration also means the confirmation of a witness' evidence by an independent testimony - Nwambe v State.Technically, it can be described as simply, the evidence of an evidence. Proof that evidence given by a witness tallies with actual events which occured.
In clearer words, corroboration means a
piece of evidence which confirms, reinforces or supports another piece
of evidence, on the same set of facts.
When looking for corroboration, the courts look for an independent testimony in support of the evidence. According to the court in Igris v. The State, Corroboration is the confirmation from an independent person of an evidence tendered by another.
Corroboration is often required in criminal trial. This is because the evidence of one witness in a criminal case is not enough or credible to convict an accused, especially in cases of sedition, sexual offences and speed limit offences as indicated in the Evidence Act. The absence of a corroborated evidence in the conviction of an accused will equal a nullity of such conviction. Offences that must be corroborated include:
⦁ Traffic law offences
⦁ Sexual offences
⦁ Seditious Offences
⦁ Breach of marriage promise
⦁ Unsworn evidence of a child
However, in civil actions, corroboration may be required as a matter of practice, especially in a breach of promise in a contract to marry (this is one of the exceptions). While one person’s evidence is enough to convict and be credible in evidence (in some cases), evidence from ten persons may not be enough to amount as credible especially when there is a repetition in their testimony.
Also, Self-Corroboration iis not allowed (R v. Whitehead)
Note that the mere knowledge or presence at the commission of an offence does not make one an accomplice – Onyikoro v. State
The Court believes that the victim of an offence is not an accomplice
Corroboration as a matter of law and Corroboration as a matter of Practice.
Three things must be established before an evidence can be taken as Corroboration
1. The testimony must confirm that a crime has been committed
2. The testimony must confirm that the crime was committed by the accused
3. the testimony must be given by an independent witness: In Francis Okpanefe v. State, the court held that a witness cannot corroborate himself
General Rule of Corroboration: The court may attach whatever weight it chooses to over any item of evidence without looking for corroboration. This means that no specific number of witnesses is required for the plaintiff or prosecution to succeed in corroboration (Sergeant Rogers, Alale v. State) or better put, there is no minimum or maximum number of witnesses required for proof of fact (Salisu Babuga v. State)
Exception to the Rule: S197 of the Evidence Act says the plaintiff cannot succeed in this (only in a breach of contract to marry) except such evidence is corroborated (Bessela v. Stern). Other exceptions here include that
⦁ Evidence of an accomplice is corroboratory
⦁ Evidence of Agent Provocatur (Police or investigator) is corroboratory
⦁ Evidence of a tainted witness (Omisade v. State)
⦁ Evidence of Co-accused
⦁ Evidence of children
The court in State V Ajani further conceptualized corroboration as “some independent testimony which affects the prisoner by tending to connect him irresistibly with the crime committed”.
Note that what is important is not the quantity of witnesses, but the credibility of witnesses in court. The General rule therefore is that the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness is enough to secure a conviction.
In Akale V State, The Court took notice of the general rule which provides that a court can safely convict on credible evidence of a single witness, except in cases of treason, perjury, exceeding speed limit, sedition and sexual offences, as contained in sections 201-204 EA2011.
In our legal system, to convict an accused, there must be proof beyond reasonable doubt. Proving beyond reasonable doubt is not based on the quantity or even quality of witnesses, but the quality of evidence tendered, as established by Justice Ibwuegbu in Akalazi V State. The implication here is that the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness may be enough to secure conviction based on the circumstances in the case. Corroboration only affects the prosecution and not the defense. This was given judicial acknowledgement in Francis Okpanefe V State
Note also, that corroboration is only applicable in criminal matters. In other words, In other words, in other words, there is no need to invoke corroboration in civil proceedings, except in cases of breach of promise of marriage as contained in 197EA, and in accordance with the holding in Lambe V Olayemi.
CORROBORATION AS REGARDS EVIDENCE OF AN ACCOMPLICE
Section 198(1) of the Evidence Act Provides that an accomplice is a competent witness against an accused person. The supreme court was in support of this opinion, when in the case of William Idahosa V The Queen, adopted the definition of accomplice which provides that accomplices are persons who are particeps criminis (parties to the crime) in respect of the actual crime charged.
In DPP V Davies , the House of Lords gave three clear judicial categories of witnesses that can be classified as accomplices as follows;
Participants in the actual crime charged
Receivers of properties where the charge faced by the accused is stealing
Participants in other crimes alleged to have been committed by the accused person where evidence of such other crimes are admissible.
Corroboration of the evidence of an accomplice is (obviously) not a mandatory requirement for conviction in criminal proceedings.
However, it is the duty of the trial judge to warn himself that it is unsafe to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice. This is to say that not just in his mind, but in his judgment, the judge must expressly state that it is unsafe to do so, as if on appeal, the court of appeal finds out that the lower court did not warn itself, the accused may be acquitted unless it is proven that there was no substantial miscarriage of justice. This was the position of the court in Amadi V State.
CORROBORATION AS REGARDS CO-ACCUSED PERSONS
A co-accused is a person who is charged along with the accused person. If the evidence of an accused person is a confession, that piece of evidence cannot be tendered against another accused person, unless they adopt it, in line with the provisions of 29(4) EA. In R v Agbeze, The four appellants and one Ejembi were charged with murder. A nolle prosequi ( a power exercised by the AG of the state or fed to discontinue a criminal trial) was entered to in Ejembi’s favour. Ejembi went on to give evidence for the prosecution (he snitched). From his evidence, he was clearly an accomplice. The first appellant then gave evidence to defend himself, and in doing so, gave evidence that incriminated the other appellants(retaliated to the snitching, just vexed and snitched the rest). It was held that while Ejembi’s evidence required corroboration, the evidence of the first appellant did not need corroboration, as it was a statement of defense, and not a confession like that of Ejembi.
Similarly, in IGP v Lawrence, one appellant gave evidence which incriminated the other appellant while defending himself from the joint charge with stealing, forgery, and altering a forged document. The court was of the opinion that corroboration was not needed.
TREASON AND TREASONABLE OFFENSES
Section 201 EA 2011 contains an exception to the general rule of corroboration as aforementioned which is that the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness is enough to secure a conviction. The section provides that a person shall not be convicted of treason or treasonable offenses listed in sections 40-42 of the criminal code ,unless he pleads guilty, or on the corroborated evidence in open court of at least two persons.
This provision was given judicial sanction In R v Omisade & Ors, by the full bench of the Supreme court in the famous 1963 Treasonable Felony Trials, involving the the leader of the opposition in parliament. The purport of the decision is that except a person pleads guilty on his own, the overt act of treasonable felony must be corroborated before a competent court or tribunal can convict on it.
However, even this exception has an exception, as Section 201(2) EA states that 201(1) does not apply if the act of treason is such that results in the death, danger, or injury to the person of the president, meaning that under these circumstances, corroboration will not be compulsory.
CORROBORATION IN RELATION TO THE CHARGE OF PERJURY
Section 202 EA 2011 also contains an exception to the rule that states that a court can convict on the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness. The section provides that a person shall not be convicted of perjury upon the uncorroborated evidence of the witness. Section 119 of the Criminal Code is in pari materia.
In R v Ogunnubi, it was held that corroboration was required not merely as to the making of the statement, but also to the fact that the statement made was false.
CORROBORATION AS REGARDS EXCEEDING Speed Limit
Under 203 EA 2011, another exception is provided. A court cannot convict a person of excessive speeding on the highway where evidence of a witness is uncorroborated, pari materia with English Road Traffic Act 1934. However, if there is a device of used in capturing the speed, then corroboration is unnecessary, as was held in Nicholas V Penny.
CORROBORATION Regarding Sedition
Section 204 EA 2011 also contains an exception. The section provides that a person shall not be convicted of the offenses mentioned in S51(1) CC, upon the uncorroborate evidence of a single witness. This is so because the evidence of a single witness in a sedition charge can be politically manipulated/motivated.
CORROBORATION REGARDING SEXUAL OFFENSES
Sections 218,221,223,&44 provide that there must be corroboration before a person is convicted of a sexual offense. This is also the position of the law on similar offenses in the Northern states of Nigeria. This came of notice in the case of Jos Native Authority Police V AllahnaGani where a native court convicted a person under Section 282(1) PC, on the evidence of one witness. On appeal, the conviction was quashed for failure to comply with the provisions of Section 198(5), now 204 EA 2011.
CORROBORATION IN RELATION TO EVIDENCE OF CHILDREN
The position of the law today is that the evidence of a child on oath does not require corroboration, but the unsworn evidence of a child must be corroborated, as was held in Section 209(3) EA 2011.
Oath taking is important in a judicial system and a child who has attained 14 years of age can give evidence under oath and is liable to appropriate punishment if false evidence is tendered. A child who has not attained the aforementioned age cannot give sworn evidence. The child who has not attained 14 years can give unsworn evidence only when the court has determined he/she understands the implication of lying and is mentally capable of understanding the circumstances. A judge will ask questions to test the child’s understanding. questions like, “what is life?”, “what is your name?”,” if a child lies, what will happen to him?” [weird examples but that’s what the lecturer gave us] if the court is satisfied with the child’s understanding of the nature of oath taking, he/she will give evidence. Although corroboration will be required to convict the accused. If the court is not satisfied, the child will not be able to testify.
in the case of AKPAN V State Lewis JSC (as he then was) quoted with utter approval part of the lead judgement by Goddard L. CJ in the case of R V Campbell that the sworn evidence of a child needs no corroboration.
If a child witness gives evidence without the requisite preliminary testing, the evidence is irregular. In Omosivbe v COP the court stated that before a child of tender years is allowed to give evidence, it is the duty ofthe presiding judge to satisfy himself as to whether or not the child is in position to be sworn.
Note that it is not clear from Nigerian Judicial decisions whether the legal defect occasioned by the irregularity of a child’s evidence could be cured by the evidence of another independent witness corroborating it. It is submitted that once the evidence is taken irregularly it cannot be corroborated because there is no proper evidence before the court that is worthy of corroboration.
Please refer to notes for the case of Mohammad v State