Computer Generated Document

By Chioma A Okeke

Ordinarily, one expects that the above question ought not to have arisen but having witnessed where a lawyer had strenuously argued the issue; it became pertinent for me to discuss the issue.

Section 84 of the Evidence Act regulates the admissibility of statement in documents produced by computers or e-documents down loaded from the internet.[1]  A statement, in a general sense, is an allegation, a declaration of matters of fact, etc,[2] while a document is an instrument on which is recorded information or facts. It contains statements and it is any physical embodiment of information or ideas.[3]

By the provisions of section 258 of the Evidence Act, a document includes any devise by means of which information is recorded, stored or retrievable, including computer output. Under the same section, computer means any device for storing and processing information, and any reference to information being derived from other information is a reference to its being derived from it by calculation, comparison or any other process.

Section 84 prescribes the means and method by which CGDs are to be produced and admitted in evidence. This section sets out certain conditions which should be complied with before a CGD is admitted in evidence. According to the Court of Appeal,

In this digital age when different creations can be achieved electronically, the reason for the requirement of authentication or certification of the gadget or computer used in producing and processing the electronically-generated documents is not far-fetched. The party seeking to rely on such evidence must be able to show that the data and information contained in the electronically-generated document is truly what it claims to be. The preconditions for admissibility set down by Section 84 are to establish this fact.[4]

By section 84, these conditions are:-

1.That the document containing the statement was produced over a period over which the computer was used regularly,[5] the kind of information contained in the statement supplied regularly,[6] the computer used was operating properly,[7] and information in the statement was supplied to the computer in the ordinary course of those activities of time.[8]

Where several or a combination of computers are involved for the function of storing or processing information for the purposes of any activities regularly carried on over that period aforementioned, all the computers used for that purpose during that period shall be treated for the purposes of admissibility as constituting a single computer.

Of course, for the court to be satisfied that the first condition is complied with, the Evidence Act under subsection 4 of the same section added the second condition, which is,

2. That there must be a certificate accompanying the document containing the statement to be admitted in evidence. The certificate shall:-

(a) identify the document sought to be tendered and the manner it was produced

(b)state particulars of the device involved in printing the document, and adding particulars relating to condition 1 above.

(c)be signed by a person in a responsible position in relation to the operation of the device or the management of the relevant activities, as the case may be; and that the computer was used regularly to store or process information and operating properly.

All the above contents (a –c) must be evident in the certificate.[9] It suffices that the person signing the document states in the certificate that the content of the certificate has been stated to the best of his  or her knowledge.[10]

From the foregoing, it is the humble submission of this writer that every CGD or document downloaded from the internet intended to be admitted in evidence should be accompanied with a certificate, which basically serves as a prima facie evidence that conditions prescribed under the section have been satisfied.

Who should Sign the Certificate and Own the Computer

used in Producing the CGD?

It is clear, from the above provisions of the Evidence Act that the person who ought to sign the certificate is a person occupying a responsible position in relation to the operation of the relevant device or the management of the relevant activities. Thus, it may or may not be a witness in the proceeding or the person tendering the document. What the law requires is that such a person shall be a person occupying a responsible position in relation to the operation of the device or management of activities thereto; used in producing the document sought to be tendered.

In Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson V. Chief Timipre Marlin Sylva & Ors, the court observed thus:-

It is understandable that if a certificate is to be relied upon it should show on its face that it is signed by a person who from his job description can confidently be expected to be a person to give reliable evidence about the operation of the computer. This enables the defendant to decide whether to accept at its face value or to ask the Judge to require oral evidence which can be challenged in cross examination.[11]

Again, the section does not require who should own the device used in producing the document. What is required is that the device must be in regular use over a period of time and function properly. This information must be reflected in the certificate.

 

Written By Chioma A Okeke

[1] Kubor & Anor V. Dickson & ORS (2012) LPELR-9817(SC); P. D. Hallmark Contractors Nigeria Ltd & Anor V. Gomwalk (2015) LPELR-24462(CA); Omisore and Anor v. Aregbesola & Ors. [2015] 15 NWLR (Pt. 1482) 205, 295

[2] C H Black, Black’s Law Dictionary Special Deluxe (5th Edn West Publishing Co, 1979); Willian Burton, Burton’s Legal Thesaurus (4th Edn McGraw-Hill, 2006).

[3] Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson V. Chief Timipre Marlin Sylva & Ors (2016) LPELR-41257(SC).

[4] Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson V. Chief Timipre Marlin Sylva & Ors

[5] Sec 84(2) (a), EA.

[6] Sec 84(2) (b), EA.

[7] Sec 84(2) (c), EA.

[8] Sec 84 (2) (d), EA.

[9] Sec 84(4) (b) (2) EA.

[10] Ibid.

[11] (2016) LPELR-41257(SC)

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