NEW RULES ON EVIDENCE: PHOTOCOPIES AS EVIDENCE AND OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
By: Atty. Irish May Quintana on September 17,2020.
In an effort to adopt technological advancements and incorporate developments in the law, jurisprudence and international conventions, the Supreme Court (SC) proposed amendments to the revised rules on evidence (RRE) in A.M. 19-08-15-SC, which took effect on May 1, 2020. The material changes in the amended RRE discussed here are: the new definition of “original document;” expanded coverage of privilege communications; and a new hearsay rule.
Duplicates as original documents
One notable change in the rules on documentary evidence is the inclusion of a “duplicate” as an original document. Under Section 4(b) of Rule 130 of the RRE, a duplicate is defined as a counterpart produced by the same impression as the original, or from the same matrix, or by means of photography including enlargement and miniatures, or by mechanical or electronic re-recording, or by chemical reproduction or by other equivalent process or technique that accurately reproduce the original. This raises questions on the admissibility of photocopies as evidence of an original document.
A photocopy is a photographic copy of a printed or written material produced by a process involving the action of light on a specifically prepared surface. Under the old rules on evidence, photocopies were treated as secondary evidence when presented before the court. It is only admissible as such when the offeror of the photocopy has complied with specific conditions set forth under the old rules.
Based on the expanded definition of an original of a document under the RRE, it would appear that a photocopy may now be admissible as a duplicate, so photocopies are no longer treated as secondary evidence. Given that a photocopy of a document is a counterpart produced by photography, a technique that accurately reproduces the original, it falls within the definition of a duplicate that includes a counterpart produced through photography.
Under Section 4(c) of Rule 130, a duplicate is as admissible as the original. However, the admissibility of duplicates as an original is limited. A duplicate is not as admissible as the original if a genuine question is raised on the authenticity of the original or, in the circumstances, it is unjust or inequitable to admit the duplicate in lieu of the original. The admissibility of a photocopy as a duplicate may still be questioned by the opposing party on these grounds.
Given the novelty of the RRE and that there is no jurisprudence on the admissibility of photocopies as an original under the amended rules, it remains to be seen how courts would rule when parties present photocopies as evidence of original documents before the court.
Other changes in the rules on documentary evidence
Another notable amendment is the change of the term “Best Evidence Rule” to “Original Document Rule.” This change was made to reflect the precept that the application of the rule is limited to documentary evidence only.
Furthermore, the RRE expanded the definition of documentary evidence. Under Section 2 of Rule 130, documentary evidence includes writing, recording, photograph or other record.
Photographs, still pictures, drawings, stored images, X-ray films and motion pictures or videos are expressly included in the definition of documentary evidence. Given that photographs and recordings are considered documentary evidence, the “Original Document Rule” likewise applies.
Expanded coverage of privileged communications
The coverage of privileged communications with respect to attorney-client and physician-patient relationships has also been expanded. Under Section 24(b) of Rule 130, the attorney-client privilege applies even to a person reasonably believed by the client to be licensed to practice law. On the physician-client privilege, under Section 24(c) of Rule 130, this also applies to members of the patient’s family who have participated in the diagnosis or treatment of the patient under the direction of the physician or psychotherapist.
In addition, the definition of “hearsay” and some of its exceptions have been amended. Hearsay is now defined as a statement other than one made by the declarant while testifying at a trial or hearing, offered to prove the truth of the facts asserted therein, including oral or written assertions, and nonverbal conduct of the person intended as an assertion. A new exception to this rule was introduced, which can be considered a catchall provision, known as “Residual Exception.” Under Section 50 of Rule 130, the residual exception pertains to a statement not specifically covered by any specific exception set forth under the rules, but have equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness.
Impeachment of witness
Under the RRE, a witness may now be impeached by proof of evidence of conviction of a crime, if it has a penalty in excess of one year, or a crime involving moral turpitude.
The amendments to the RRE were made to reflect the changing times. It is a welcome development that should help courts better ascertain the truth on matters of fact and make more informed decisions.