On June 12, 2023, the Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2023 (“the Amendment Act”) was signed into law by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The update to the Evident Act was necessary in light of the global technological advancements in evidence handling.
While not repealing the Evidence Act 2011, the updated Act addresses the need for modernisation in the face of technological changes. It also represents a significant step toward adapting Nigeria’s legal system to the digital age.
This article examines key changes introduced by the Amendment Act and their potential impact on judicial proceedings in Nigeria.
Critical Updates in the 2023 Amendment Act
- Amendment of the Computer-Generated Evidence Provisions
One of the most remarkable innovations introduced by the Amendment Act is the treatment of electronically generated evidence. Before the enactment of the Act, the admissibility of electronically generated evidence was a contentious issue. The Act now resolves the debate over electronically generated evidence and expands the definition of “document” to include devices for recording, storing, and retrieving information, such as computers.
The Amendment Act introduces “electronic records,” covering electronically stored data, images, or sounds. Additionally, Section 258 of the Act defines “a copy of a document” to include transcripts from storage devices. This allows for the admission of written reproductions of audio or video content from CDs when secondary evidence requirements are met.
- Admissibility of Records in a Computer
The Amendment Act also tackles the admissibility of electronic records, particularly those stored or recorded in optical or magnetic media or cloud computing databases produced by computers. Electronic records that are printed on paper, stored, recorded, or copied in optical or magnetic media or cloud computing database produced by a computer, are now generally considered to be documents and will be admissible in any judicial proceeding before Nigerian courts, without further proof or production of the original, if the conditions that are stated in the Act are satisfied.
- Introduction of Digital Signature
The term Electronic Signature, or Digital Signature or E-signature, can be generally defined as a distinctive mark of a person affixed to a document with the aid of an electronic device such as a computer. While the Principal Act already acknowledged electronic signatures, the Amendment Act introduces the term “digital signatures” and provides a precise definition.
According to the Act, a digital signature is “an electronically generated signature affixed to an electronically transmitted document to authenticate its content and verify the sender’s identity.
- Introduction of Electronic Oath-Taking
The Amendment Act modernises the oath-taking process by allowing individuals to depose affidavits electronically through audio-visual means. This change streamlines the filing of affidavits and enhances accessibility while maintaining the involvement of authorised individuals. It recognises the importance of audio-visual communication in contemporary legal practices.
- Introduction of Electronic Gazette
The Act amends relevant sections to accommodate Electronic Gazettes and official publications in electronic form. This shift simplifies the publication of rules, regulations, and notifications, making legal information more accessible and efficient. Electronic Gazettes ensure universal access to legal materials while reducing environmental impacts associated with paper-based publications.
The 2023 Evidence (Amendment) Act signifies a significant stride in modernizing Nigeria’s legal framework for the digital era, aligning it with global standards. It tackles electronic evidence complexities, introduces digital signatures, and simplifies procedures for electronic oath-taking and gazette publication. To ensure its success, robust security measures, data protection protocols, and ongoing evaluations must be put in place. With proper implementation, these provisions will enhance Nigeria’s legal system, fostering inclusivity, efficiency, and transparency. The Act promises a brighter future for digital-age dispute resolution and justice administration in Nigeria.