Documentary evidence is vital and indispensable tool in the hands of legal Practitioners in the conduct of proceedings in court. Pleading documentary evidence is a crucial aspect of legal proceedings, as it allows parties to present relevant materials that supports their claims or defences. However, to ensure compliance with the rules of the court and evidence act, it is essential to understand the proper way to plead documentary evidence in pleadings. This article aims to provide a well-researched guide on the appropriate method or methods to plead documentary evidence in compliance with the evidence act, to identify challenges in relation to compliance with the rules and to proffer recommendations.


The Evidence Act serves as the foundational legislation for the admissibility and presentation of evidence in legal proceedings. It sets forth the rules and procedures that governs the admissibility of documentary evidence. As a rule, the basis for the admissibility of documentary evidence or any piece of evidence is "Relevancy" to the fact in issue, the document must be pleaded, it must be admissible in law and proper foundation must be laid, as seen in Okonji v. Njokanma. Therefore, any evidence on facts not pleaded, whether extracted during evidence in chief or under cross-examination, goes to no issue and ought to be disregarded. Indeed, such evidence is inadmissible, and even where it was wrongly admitted during trial, it is bound to be expunged by the court in its judgment or on appeal. This principle was clearly elucidated in the cases of Sommer v Federal Housing Authority, Aniemeka Emegokwue v. James Okadigbo and Nwawuba & Ors v. Enemuo. This rule is usually invoked during trial when a party seeks to tender a document through a witness or when a party seeks to extract certain answers from a witness to prove or disprove a fact. Flowing from the foregoing, what is of immense concern, is the procedure for pleading documentary evidence, this work seeks to identify the procedure for pleading documentary evidence in compliance with the Evidence Act, 2023.


Documents are records of facts, happenings, transactions, activities, and events, which makes them an indispensable tool of advocacy in the hands of legal practitioners in the conduct of proceedings in courts or tribunals established by law. Documents are the best form of evidence in the proof of a party’s claim before the court. The Court in Orhena Adugu Gbileve and Anor v. Mrs Ngunan Addingi and Anor captured documentary evidence as follows- “Documentary evidence is used as a hanger from which to assess the veracity of the evidence whether given orally or by deposition.” Section 258 of the Evidence Act further broadens the scope of document to include the following- “Document” includes books, maps, plans, graphs, drawings, photographs, and includes any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks or by more than one of these means, intended to be used or which may be used for the purpose of recording that matter.”


Generally, admissibility of documentary evidence as to facts in issue is provided in section 83 of the evidence act, as thus; in any proceedings where direct oral evidence of a fact would be admissible, any statement made by a person in a document which seems to establish that fact shall, on production of the original document, be admissible as evidence of that fact if the following conditions are satisfied - 

(a) if the maker of the statement either

  • had personal knowledge of the matters dealt with by the statement, or 
  • where the document in question is or forms part of a record purporting to be a continuous record, made the statement (in so far as the matters dealt with by it are not within his personal knowledge) in the performance of a duty to record information supplied to him by a person who had, or might reasonably be supposed to have, personal knowledge of those matters; and 

(b) if the maker of the statement is called as a witness in the proceedings: Provided that the condition that the maker of the statement shall be called as a witness need not be satisfied if he is dead, or unfit by reason of his bodily or mental condition to attend as a witness, or if he is outside Nigeria and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance, or if all reasonable efforts to find him have been made without success. 

Section 83(2) further states that in any proceedings, the court may at any stage of the proceedings, if having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is satisfied that undue delay or expense would otherwise be caused, order that such a statement as is mentioned in subsection (1) of this section shall be admissible as evidence or may, without any such order having been made, admit such a statement in evidence notwithstanding that – 

(a) the maker of the statement is available but is not called as a witness. 

(b) the original document is not produced, if in lieu of it there is produced a copy of the original document or of the material part of it certified to be a true copy in such manner as may be specified in the order or as the court may approve. 

The act also stated in 83(4) & (5) that, a statement in a document shall not be deemed to have been made by a person unless the document or the material part of it was written made or produced by him with his own hand, or was signed or initiated by him or otherwise recognised by him in writing as one for the accuracy of which he is responsible. And whether or not a statement is admissible as evidence by virtue of this section, the court may draw any reasonable inference from the form or contents of the document in which the statement is contained, or from any other circumstances, and may, in deciding, whether or not a person is fit to attend as a witness, act on a certificate purporting to be the certificate of a registered medical practitioner. These means, intended to be used or which may be used for the purpose of recording that matter. 


A court is not expected to pronounce on every fact which is adduced before it at the trial of a case. It is only the facts in issue between the parties and also relevant facts to facts in issue that the court can pronounce upon. The Act, in section 258, defines ‘’Fact’’ as including; - anything, state of things or relation of things, capable of being perceived by the senses, and any mental condition of which any person is conscious. The Act also defines “Facts in issue’’ as including any fact from which either by itself or in connection with other facts the existence, non-existence, nature or extent of any right, liability or disability asserted or denied in any suit or proceeding necessarily follows.

Thus, in civil action facts in issue are all such facts that a plaintiff must prove to establish his claim if they are not admitted expressly or by implication by the defendant. A fact in issue is usually the assertion made by the plaintiff in his pleadings and not what the defendant says in his statement of defence especially in a situation where there is no counterclaim or cross-action. Fact in issue is arrived at when parties to an action have answered one another’s pleadings in such a manner that they have arrived at some material point or matter of fact affirmed on one side and denied on the other see Osolo v. Osolo. It follows therefore that for documentary evidence to be admissible in evidence, it must relate to the fact in issue. 


The word ‘relevancy’ is not defined in the Evidence Act, The Black’s law Dictionary defines relevance as logically connected and tending to prove or disprove a matter in issue; having appreciable probative value, which is rationally tending to persuade people of the probability or possibility of some alleged fact. According to James Fitz James Stephen, “the word ‘relevant’ means that any two facts to which it is applied as so related to each other that according to the common course of events one either taken by itself or in consonance with other facts proves or renders probable the past, present or future existence or non-existence of the other.” Some relevant facts as provided under section 4 – 13 of the Evidence Act are as follows:

  • Facts which, though not in issue are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, whether they occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places.
  • Facts which are the occasions, cause, or effects, immediate or otherwise, of relevant facts which constitute the state of things under which they happened, or which afforded an opportunity for the occurrence or transaction are relevant.
  • Any fact is relevant which shows or constitute a motion or preparation for any fact in issue.
  • Facts necessary to explain or introduce a fact in issue or relevant fact.
  • Things said or done by conspirator in reference to common intention.
  • Facts not otherwise relevant becomes relevant if they are inconsistent with any fact in issue and by connection with other facts, they make the existence or non-existence of any fact in issue probable or improbable.
  • Where damages are claimed in the proceeding any fact which will enable the court to determine the number of damages which ought to be awarded is relevant.
  • Facts showing the existence of any state of mind as intention, knowledge, good faith, negligence, rashness, ill will, or good will towards any person.
  • Facts bearing on question whether an act was accidental or intentional; and
  • When there is a question whether a particular act was done, the existence of any course of business according to which it naturally would have been done is relevant fact.


Pleading, in law are written presentation by a litigant in a lawsuit setting forth the facts upon which he claims legal relief or challenges the claims of his opponent. A pleading includes statement of claims, statement of defence, counterclaims, setoff, reply and further and better particulars in an action started by writ of summons but not the evidence by which the litigant intends to prove his case. Pleadings defines the matters in dispute to which parties must confine their arguments and evidence to in the proceedings and are bound by. See Minister of Lands v. Azikiwe in an era of front loading, a document must be pleaded by the party seeking to tender it in Court. Beside pleading it, the party will also frontload the document. This is to enable an adverse party to prepare for his defence as the law frowns at hide and seek game.


In pleading a document, only material facts supporting the admission of a documentary evidence, ought and should be pleaded and not necessarily the document itself. A party pleads a document by referring to the document in one or more of the paragraphs of his pleading specifically or generally by referring to facts, transactions or circumstances surrounding the documents. For example, in a claim for breach of contract, the terms of the contract may be the material fact that need to be pleaded, while the signed contract itself is documentary evidence in support of the case that may also be frontloaded.

By virtue of section 1 of the Evidence Act, facts only and not the evidence to prove the facts need to be pleaded. Therefore, specific documentary evidence need not be pleaded if the facts relating to the document are expressly pleaded. This position has been established in plethora of cases. For example, in Sifax Nigeria Limited & 4 Ors. v. Migfo Nigeria Limited & Anor, where the appellant argued that the said date 20th July 2006, was not stated specifically in the said Paragraphs 9-47, but as the Respondents submitted, reference to a document in a pleading makes the document part of the pleading, as seen in M.M.A. Inc. v. N.M.A, cited by the respondents counsel, wherein this court, per Galadima, JSC, @ PAGE 154 lINES 20-35 explained the principle as follows: 

“That the case of Day v. William Hill (Parklane) (1949) 1 KB 632 was cited with approval by the Supreme Court in Banque Genevoise De Commerce Et De Credit v. Cia Mar Di Isola Spetsai Ltd. ((1962) 2 SCNLR 310) where the court affirmed that a reference to a document in a pleading makes the document part of the pleading, Brett, F.J., said at Page 74 stated thus-

“In writing, reference to it makes it part of the pleading; The essential part of the pleading is the statement in Paragraph 4 that since the agreement was entered into the relationship between the parties has been governed by it. This was enough to make it clear to the Plaintiffs that the defendants are relying on the agreement as debarring them from enforcing the mortgage, and in my view, it is open to the court to give the agreement its true legal effect.”

The court below was, therefore, in the right when it gleaned the said date from the certified true copies of the incorporation documents of the fifth Appellant, referred to by Respondents in the said paragraphs of the Statement of Claim. The Supreme Court reiterated this position in the case of Pillars (Nig) Ltd v. Desbordes as well as in the case of Ezemba v. Ibeneme. Thus, a document need not be specifically pleaded. In other words, once sufficient materials in respect of a document are averred, it shall be sufficient for a pleader to rely on it as seen in Access Bank PLC v Ogboja. 

Hence, documents in support of pleaded facts can be tendered and admitted even though the document itself had not been specifically pleaded as seen in, Okonkwo v C.C. B(Nig) Plc.


  • Admissibility: The basis for admissibility of documentary evidence is relevancy to the facts in issue and such facts about such document must be pleaded. Hence no document which is deemed irrelevant, hearsay, or lacks authenticity will be admissible in Evidence even when such fact is pleaded. 
  • Authenticity: The opposing party may challenge the authenticity of the document, questioning its origin, accuracy, during or whether it has been tampered with during cross examination. The person presenting the document needs to establish its authenticity by laying a proper foundation. Failure to establish this may lead to challenges from the opposing party.
  • Relevance: The document must be relevant to the case at hand. The scope of ascertaining what is relevant becomes more problematic since the evidence act did not define the word “relevancy” to the case at hand. Any challenges regarding its relevance may affect its admissibility.
  • Privilege: Certain documents may be protected by privilege and cannot be compelled to be produced as evidence. Challenges may arise if there are claims of privilege over the document.
  • Expert testimony: If the document requires expert interpretation or analysis, challenges may arise regarding the qualifications or methodology of the expert.
  • Foundation: A proper foundation needs to be laid to establish the document's authenticity, reliability, and relevance. Failure to do so may result in challenges from the opposing party.


The court may exclude evidence of a fact, even though it is relevant to the case when it is satisfied that the production of such document or the giving of such oral evidence is against public interest section 243 evidence act.


The evidence Act remains the foundational legislation for the admissibility and presentation of evidence in legal proceeding. It is a cardinal principle in law that any evidence on facts not pleaded, whether extracted during evidence in chief or under cross-examination, goes to no issue and ought to be disregarded by the court. Even where it was wrongly admitted during trial, it is bound to be expunged by the court in its judgment or on appeal. However, for a document to be deemed pleaded it is not required that such document must be specifically pleaded, the evidence act requires that it be enough if the fact about such document is pleaded without necessarily specifically pleading such document in the pleading. It is also important to note that the mere fact that a document is pleaded or frontloaded, does not give relevance to the document. A party tendering a document must demonstrate the relevance of the document to his case or an aspect of his case as seen in Jimi v. INEC.

Kindly click the link below to download the document format.

Post a Comment