Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, "hearsay" can also have the narrower meaning of the use of such information as evidence to prove the truth of what is asserted. Such use of "hearsay evidence" in court is generally not allowed. This prohibition is called the hearsay rule.

For example, a witness says "Susan told me Tom was in town" as her evidence to the fact that Tom was in town. Since the witness does not offer in this statement the personal knowledge of the fact, this witness statement would be hearsay evidence to the fact that Tom was in town, and not admissible. Only when Susan testifies herself in the current judicial proceeding that she saw Tom in town, that Susan's testimony becomes admissible evidence to the fact that Tom was in town. However, a witness statement "Susan told me Tom was in town" can be admissible as evidence in the case against Susan when she is accused of spreading defamatory rumors about Tom, because now the witness has personal knowledge of the fact that Susan said (i.e. pronounced the words) "Tom was in town" in the presence of the witness.

Many jurisdictions that generally disallow hearsay evidence in courts permit the more widespread use of hearsay in non-judicial hearings.

United States

"Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant
A declarant, generally speaking, is anyone who composes and signs a statement or declaration alleging that the information he has given therein is true...

 while testifying
In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful. It was the custom in Ancient Rome for the men to place their right hand on a Bible when taking an oath...

 at the trial
A trial is, in the most general sense, a test, usually a test to see whether something does or does not meet a given standard.It may refer to:*Trial , the presentation of information in a formal setting, usually a court...

 or hearing
Hearing (law)
In law, a hearing is a proceeding before a court or other decision-making body or officer, such as a government agency.A hearing is generally distinguished from a trial in that it is usually shorter and often less formal...

, offered in evidence
Evidence (law)
The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

 to prove the truth of the matter asserted." Per Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(a), a statement made by a defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

 is only admissible as evidence if it is inculpatory
Inculpatory evidence
Inculpatory evidence is a legal term used to describe evidence that shows, or tends to show, a person's involvement in an act, or evidence that can establish guilt. In criminal law, the prosecution has a duty to provide all evidence to the defense, whether it favours the prosecution's case, or the...

; exculpatory statements made to an investigator are hearsay and therefore may not be admitted as evidence in court, unless the defendant testifies.

There are several exceptions to the rule against hearsay in USA law. Federal Rule of Evidence 803 lists the following: (1) present sense impression
Present sense impression
A present sense impression, in the law of evidence, is a statement made by a person that conveys his or her sense of the state of an event or the condition of something. The statement must be spontaneously made while the person was perceiving A present sense impression, in the law of evidence, is...

, (2) excited utterance
Excited utterance
An excited utterance, in the law of evidence, is a statement made by a person in response to a startling or shocking event or condition. The statement must be spontaneously made by the person while still under the stress of excitement from the event or condition. The subject matter and content...

, (3) then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition, (4) ... medical diagnosis or treatment, (5) recorded recollection
Recorded recollection
A recorded recollection , in the law of evidence, is an exception to the hearsay rule which allows a witness to testify to the accuracy of a recording or documentation of their own out-of-court statement based on their recollection of the circumstances under which the statement was recorded or...

, (6) records of regularly conducted activity, (7) absence of entry in records ..., (8) public records and reports, (9) records of vital statistics, (10) absence of public record or entry, (11) records of religious organizations, (12) marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates, (13) family records, (14) ... property records, (15) statements in documents affecting an interest in property, (16) statements in ancient documents, (17) market reports, commercial publications, (18) learned treatises, (19) reputation concerning personal or family history, (20) reputation concerning boundaries or general history, (21) reputation as to character, (22) judgment of previous conviction, and (23) judgment as to personal, family or general history, or boundaries. Also, some documents are self-authenticating
Self-authenticating document
A self-authenticating document, under the law of evidence in the United States, is any document that can be admitted into evidence at a trial without proof being submitted to support the claim that the document is what it appears to be...

 under Rule 902, such as (1) domestic public documents under seal, (2) domestic public documents not under seal, but bearing a signature of a public officer, (3) foreign public documents, (4) certified copies of public records, (5) official publications, (6) newspapers and periodicals, (7) trade inscriptions and the like, (8) acknowledged documents (i.e. by a notary public), (9) commercial paper and related documents, (10) presumptions under Acts of Congress, (11) certified domestic records of regularly conducted activity, (12) certified foreign records of regularly conducted activity.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, hearsay is generally admissible in civil proceedings but is only admissible in criminal proceedings if it falls within a statutory or a preserved common law exception, all of the parties to the proceedings agree, or the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice that the evidence is admissible.

Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides that where a witness is unavailable, hearsay is admissible where
a) the relevant person is dead;
b) the relevant person is unfit to be a witness because of his bodily or mental condition;
c) the relevant person is outside the UK and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance;
d) the relevant person cannot be found;
e) through fear, the relevant person does not give oral evidence in the proceedings and the court gives leave for the statement to be given in evidence.

The two main common law exceptions to the rule that hearsay is inadmissible are res gestae
Res gestae
Res gestae is a term found in substantive and procedural American jurisprudence and English law. In American substantive law, it refers to the start-to-end period of a felony. In American procedural law, it refers to an exception to the hearsay rule for statements made spontaneously or as part of...

and confessions.


In Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 hearsay is admissible as evidence provided it meets what are called "hearsay exceptions" which are not fully enumerated but the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. The court grants permission to between 40 and 75 litigants each year to appeal decisions rendered by provincial, territorial and federal appellate courts, and its decisions...

 has visited the issue multiple times, as in R. v. Starr
R. v. Starr
R. v. Starr [2000] 2 S.C.R. 144 is a leading Supreme Court of Canada decision that re-evaluated several principles of evidence. In particular, they held that the "principled approach" hearsay evidence under R. v. Khan and R. v. Smith can be equally used to exclude otherwise inclusive hearsay...


Hong Kong

Hong Kong's law of hearsay is modeled on the law in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

. Since 1 July 1997, English cases are merely persuasive and not binding on Hong Kong courts, but in practice they are usually followed. The situation for civil cases is covered by ss 46-55B of the Evidence Ordinance. That Ordinance also covers certain exceptions in criminal cases, supplementing the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...


New Zealand

Hearsay evidence is covered by sections 16-22 of the Evidence Act 2006. Pursuant to s 4(1) of the Act, a hearsay statement is a statement made by someone other than a witness (in the proceedings) that is offered to prove the truth of its contents. Under section 17 of this Act a hearsay statement is generally not admissible in any court proceeding. Though section 18 states when a hearsay statement may be able to be given in court. This is when the statement is reliable, the statement maker is unavailable to be called as a witness or it would provide undue expense and delay if that person was required to be a witness. There are also a number of specific exceptions such as statements in business records. Other exceptions include state of mind evidence (see R v Blastland) and whether the statement is tendered to prove the fact it was uttered or made, rather than to prove the truth of its contents (see DPP v Subramaniam).

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, hearsay evidence is generally not allowed. However, the Evidence Ordinance recognizes a few exceptions such as res gestae
Res gestae
Res gestae is a term found in substantive and procedural American jurisprudence and English law. In American substantive law, it refers to the start-to-end period of a felony. In American procedural law, it refers to an exception to the hearsay rule for statements made spontaneously or as part of...

(recognised under Section 6) and common intention (recognised under Section 10). Some other exceptions are provided by case law (see Subramaniam v. DPP [1956] 1 WLR 956 (PC)).


In Malaysia, hearsay evidence is generally not allowed. However, the Evidence Act 1950 permitted a few exceptions such as section 6, 73A and etc.

See also

  • Gossip
    Gossip is idle talk or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others, It is one of the oldest and most common means of sharing facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and variations into the information transmitted...

  • Moral certainty
    Moral certainty
    Moral certainty is a concept of intuitive probability. It means a very high degree of probability, sufficient for action, but short of absolute or mathematical certainty....

  • Probable cause
    Probable cause
    In United States criminal law, probable cause is the standard by which an officer or agent of the law has the grounds to make an arrest, to conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrant for arrest, etc. when criminal charges are being considered. It is also used to refer to the...

  • Reasonable person
    Reasonable person
    The reasonable person is a legal fiction of the common law that represents an objective standard against which any individual's conduct can be measured...

  • Reasonable suspicion
    Reasonable suspicion
    Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof in United States law that is less than probable cause, the legal standard for arrests and warrants, but more than an "inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or 'hunch' ";...

  • Scuttlebutt
    Scuttlebutt in slang usage means rumor or gossip, deriving from the nautical term for the cask used to serve water . Retrieved 2008-03-16...

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