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Rules on expert opinion, hearsay evidence easedRachel Chang15 February 2012The law was liberalised yesterday to allow greater use of hearsay evidence and expert opinion in court.Amendments to the Evidence Act, which sets out rules for the type of evidence that can be admitted in court, were passed in Parliament.One key change is that judges will now have more leeway to admit out-of-court statements as evidence. Explaining this, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the hearsay rule - which says that a statement should not be admitted unless the person who made it can appear in court to be cross-examined - has been criticised and hence, exceptions carved out.But the five MPs who rose to debate the changes were split on whether they go far enough.Mr. Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said the hearsay rule should be abolished altogether.He noted that in Singapore’s system, the judge who decides if the out-of-court statement is admissible also decides the trial outcome. Thus, he may as well be given the discretion to consider all evidence.But Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) expressed concerns in the opposite direction: that the changes may go too far in lowering the protections for those accused of criminal acts.For example, the law says that a statement against the accused by his accomplice should not be considered by the court unless it is a joint trial - due to the incentive for the accomplice to lie. Now, the judge may decide that such a statement is admissible, she said. Since lives and liberty were at stake, this was a ‘dangerous path to go down’.Mr. Shanmugam disputed this. A judge may admit the evidence, but he will also decide what weight to give it in his final judgment of the case.As for abolishing the hearsay rule altogether, he said this would have its difficulties, but added that the Act as it stands ‘is not the end point’.Mr. Desmond Lee (Jurong GRC) expressed concern over a second change - allowing a wider range of expert opinion to be admitted as evidence. In countries like the United States, ‘professional’ expert witnesses provide biased testimony for the side that hired them.Mr. Shanmugam said judges can be trusted to take the measure of expert witnesses and decide what penalties there may be for biased testimony, if any.Three other changes were passed. They are: computer output - sound recordings and computer printouts - would be treated just like other evidence; in-house counsel should also now enjoy legal professional privilege; and the deletion of a section of the law that allowed a rape victim’s sexual history to be used against her in court.
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