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n Tydskrif vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Reg - Old "documents", "videotapes" and new "data messages" - a functional approach to the law of evidence (part 2)

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Abstract

Changes in technology have the tendency to trigger changes in law. Our law of evidence relies heavily on the use of documents in its old fashioned as well as its modern form. Some changes will come from the courts in their interpretation of concepts and the application of statutory options. This will normally take the form of a slow evolution of doctrinal rules. Other changes will come as the result of research projects by academics, the South African law reform commission and much needed responses from legal practitioners.


The problem of documentary evidence, specifically electronic evidence, extends far beyond our borders. Helpful options, possible solutions and meaningful insights may be found there. We all use the same hardware, the same software and the same networks. Although our constitutional traditions may differ and we may focus on different values, we are all facing the same basic questions of identifying evidence and establishing admissibility requirements as safeguards and as part of a due process.
South Africa should move away from rules that were developed for old paper documents being presented for jury trials and focus on a more liberal, functional, and practical means of dealing with admissibility issues. It may be desirable to establish new legislation clearly stating what the standards and requirements should be. In the meantime, we should interpret present rules in such a way that they are not too restrictive or rigid. This should not be understood to mean that potential prejudicial evidence should be accepted without careful scrutiny. This cautious approach is part of the assessment phase, however, and should not be confused with the admissibility phase. The well-known warning remains valid : "Naturally, the distinction between admissibility and weight must not be blurred."


In hierdie bydrae word enkele bewysregtelike begrippe wat vir etlike jare gereeld deur howe en kommentatore onder die loep geneem is, opnuut vanuit 'n ander perspektief bekyk. Die outeur betoog dat die uitdagings wat nuwe tegnologie aan die bewysregjuris stel, eers volledig aandag behoort te kry nadat daar antwoorde op ou vrae verskaf is. Die versaking, miskenning of verontagsaming van die gemeneregreëls word eerstens aan die orde gestel en die aandag word opnuut gevestig op residuêre bepalings.
Die beginsel van litigante se vrye keuse tot bewys word as vertrekpunt geneem ten einde te fokus op die belangrike rol wat dokumentêre bewyslewering in ons howe vervul. Die outeur beklemtoon die noodsaaklikheid om suiwer te onderskei tussen die begrippe "dokument", "dokumentêre" en "reële getuienis". Met verwysing na Engelsregtelike gesag, sowel as na die verskillende benaderings in Suid-Afrikaanse howe, word daar tot die gevolgtrekking gekom dat 'n funksionele benadering tot die gemelde begrippe tot 'n werkbare oplossing mag lei. Die aanbeveling word gemaak dat die aard van die getuienis afhanklik is van die feite van die spesifieke saak en veral van wat dit is wat die party (die aanbieder) daarmee wil bewys. Hierdie benadering, so word betoog, behoort gevolg te word, ongeag of daar met tradisionele dokumente, oudiobande, videobande of databoodskappe in die vorm van rekenaardrukstukke gehandel word.
In die tweede gedeelte van die bydrae word die uitdagings wat betref dokumentêre getuienis se toelaatbaarheid vanuit die statutêre reg bespreek en bepaalde wanopvattings uitgelig. Onder die bespreking van die statutêre bepalings beklemtoon die outeur die noodsaaklikheid om uiters nougeset te let op al die voorgeskrewe vereistes wat deur die wetgewer daargestel is alvorens daar op die gevolge (voordele) staatgemaak kan word. Ook hier word 'n funksionele benadering ten sterkste aanbeveel.
Ten slotte word enkele kritiese opmerkings aan die hand van die Wet op Elektroniese Kommunikasie en Transaksies en onlangse uitsprake oor elektroniese getuienis gemaak. Die bydrae word afgesluit met 'n betoog ten gunste van 'n liberale benadering tot die toelaatbaarheid van "ou" en "nuwe" dokumente, asook reële getuienis, gepaardgaande met 'n versigtige, konserwatiewe benadering wanneer die waardebepaling daarvan aan die orde kom.

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/content/ju_tsar/2010/4/EJC55352
2010-01-01
2016-12-03
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