Utility Of Confessional Statement In Criminal Trials

Project and Seminar Material for Law

Utility Of Confessional Statement In Criminal Trials


This project deals with the utility of confessional statement in criminal trials Nigeria. A confession is an admission made at any time by a person charge with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime, In Nigeria, as the case in point, confessions are covered by section 27 to 32 of the Evidence Act 1990. The specific objectives were to critically examine circumstances in which confessional statement are admissible; determine the effect of retracted confessional statement in criminal trials in Nigeria and critically examine circumstances in which confessional statements may be vitiated and application in decided cases. A normative or doctrinal research was adopted to achieve this objectives. The study revealed that Where inducement, threat or promise issued has cased to exist, any subsequent confessional statement obtained would be admissible and A confession does not become inadmissible merely because the accused denies having made it but the court in acting on such retracted confessional statement must satisfy itself that the accused in fact made the statement out of his own free will and choice.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

An adverse admission relevant to the issues of guilt in a criminal case is known at Common Law as confession, and the same terminology is employed by the Evidence Act 1990. As indicated above, confessions represent the most important and most frequently encountered exception to the rule against hearsay in criminal cases, fundamental changes in the law pertaining to confessions were introduced by the Evidence Act 1990, but in order to understand the principles of admissibility of confessions, it is necessary to understand the principles of admissibility developed at common law to govern the admissibility of confessions. Apparently, we will summarize the most important aspects of the common law rules, we will then proceed to examine the new statutory definition and rules of admissibility of confessions.

While the common law recognized that a confession might be both reliable and cogent as evidence of guilt, and indeed saw no objection to a conviction in cases where a confession was the only evidence against the accused, the law recognized that a confession could be regarded as reliable only when given freely and voluntarily. If coerced on forced, reliability of the confession might be totally compromised and the integrity of the system of administration of justice itself made to suffer. The exclusion of evidence obtained through torture, force or other coercive methods was the means of protection of the accused developed by the judges during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the memory of an age when such methods were commonplace still lingered. Its significance may be gauged by the fact that in English law, the rule that a confession obtained by oppression, in circumstances likely to render it unreliable must be excluded, is the only instance of the mandatory exclusion of illegality or unfairly obtained evidence. The classic statement of the common law rule as to admissibility of confession was that of Lord Sumner in Ibrahim .V. Rabiu

“It has been established that no statement by an accused is admissible in evidence against him unless it is shown by the persecution to have been voluntary statement, in the sense that it has not been obtained from him either by fear, or prejudice or hope of advantage exercised or held out by a person in authority”.

In common parlance, ‘voluntary’ meant simply of one’s free will’. That test of voluntariness, as defined by Lord Sumner was supplemented by Lord Parker C.J in Callis .V. Gunn , when he that a confession must not have been obtained in ‘an oppressive manner’, his observation was, strictly speaking, obiter – the case involved the admissibility of fingerprint evidence. But when the Judges’ Rules appeared in revised form in 1964, the introduction started that the rules did not affect the principle, which was overriding and applicable in all cases that:

… It is a fundamental condition of the admissibility in evidence against any person equally of any oral answer given by that person to a question put by a police officer and of any statement made by that person, that it shall have been voluntary in the sense that it has not been obtained from him by fear of prejudice or hope of advantage, exercise or held out by a person in authority.

Interestingly, Lord Sumner’s phrases fear of prejudice’ and ‘hope of advantage’ are habitually spoken of as ‘threats and ‘inducements’ respectively. It give rise to some problems in the application of the rules of admissibility at common law. In particular, the suggestion of some deliberate act in the words ‘threats’ and ‘inducements’ for a time led the courts to concentrate on the mind of the questioner, rather than on the mind of the suspect. As the problem may recur, despite the apparently clear wording – of the 1990 act, it is worth pursuing briefly. In R .V. Iseguilla , the court of Appeal concluded that:

“… Under the existing law the exclusion of a confession as a matter of law because it is not voluntary is always related to some conduct on the part of authority, which is improper or unjustified. Included in the phrase ‘improper or unjustified’ of course must be the offering of an inducement, because it is improper in this context for those in authority to try to induce a suspect to make a confession”.

This view of the law would have left the accused without recourse in a case where without any improper intent and perhaps even without realizing it, the questioner created some fear of prejudice or hope of advantage in the mind of the suspect.’ In such a case, the resulting confession might well be involuntary, but under the Isequilla rule, would nonetheless be admissible. In D.P.P .V. Ping Lin , the House of Lords was called upon to decide whether it was the state of mind of the questioner or that of the suspect which was to control the question of voluntariness. The House firmly held that it was the latter that governed the question of whether or not the confession was voluntary, and that should therefore also control the question of admissibility.

1.2 Statement of Problem

The rules of admissibility applied only where the fear of prejudice or hope of advantage was excited or held out, or the oppression created by a ‘person in authority’, The question of what persons were or were not persons in authority, has, however, settled that a person in authority must have, or reasonably be thought by the suspect to have, some influence over his arrest, detention or persecution, or in other words, be of a person from who a threat or inducement might appear credible. The limitation of the rule in this way was not of great importance, since the vast majority of confessions are made to police officers and others who are undoubtedly persons in authority, and it has been abolished expressly by the Evidence Act 1990. But it remains germane to consider it in the light of the common law rule that the fear of prejudice or hope of advantage must have been generated by the person in authority, with the consequence that self-generated fears and hopes would not destroy the voluntariness of the confessions. However, the result is different under the new statutory rules, even though the confession is made to a person who previously have been a person in authority.

These difference under the statutory rules has lead to contradicting opinions by scholars on the definition and scope of confessional statement in crime cases in Nigeria such as in Gbadamosi .V. State and the case of Sunday Onungwa .V. The state . While the cited cases placed much relevance on the determining a clear definition of the concept , this research would go further to determine the circumstances in which confessional statement are admissible and efficient utilization of confessional statements.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The general objective of the study is to assess the utilization of confessional statements in criminal trials in Nigeria.

The Specific objectives of the study are :

  1. To critically examine circumstances in which confessional statement are admissible
  2. To determine the effect of retracted confessional statement in criminal trials in Nigeria
  3. To critically examine circumstances in which confessional statements may be vitiated and application in decided cases

1.4 Significance of Study

This study upon completion would highlight and widen scholarly perceptions of relevance of confessional statement in criminal trials Nigeria, Thus, the study will be a response to the intellectual challenges involved in enhancing an understanding of crime admission and confessional statements.

Also, this study will be of vital importance to scholars on criminology and the global reading public, and as such serve as a further take off point for future inquiry in the study under review.

1.5 Scope of the Study

The enormity of the subject matter has led to the selection of some aspects of our criminal laws in Nigeria. In general, reference is made to criminal justice system in Nigeria and the relevance of confessional statements in criminal cases.

1.6 Research Methodology

This research methodology is normative or doctrinal research (library research). Normative legal research is the legal researches which use the law as foundation of norm. The norm system in question is related to principle, norm, and rule from legislation, verdict, treaties, and doctrine concerned annulment of an arbitration award. First stage of normative research comprises a research with purposes to achieve objective law, by conducting research on legal issues. The second stage of normative legal research is aimed at obtaining subjective law (rights and obligations). It also concerns with critical review of legislation and of decisional processes and their underlying policy.

1.7 Definition of Terms


The word “confession” is derived from the Latin word ‘confessus’ which mean to speak or confess completely? .

Under the Evidence Act , confession is defined thus:

“A confession is an admission made at any time by a person charge with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed that crime.

Common Law:

Common law is that body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of “common law” is that it arises as precedent. In Nigerian constitution, common law the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes.


The definition of utility as the usefulness or relevance of a thing is adopted for this study

Retracted Confessional Statement:

This is a denial of an earlier statement made. By such denial, an accused dissociates himself completely from previous statement. Such denials are mostly pronounced in murder case etc.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings and Conclusion

5.1 Summary of Findings

Findings from the research revealed that an accused person is of great evidential value in the dispensation of justice. Therefore, the court should not treat it lightly.

Before the confessional statement of an accused person is admitted in evidence , certain factors must be taken into consideration. First, the judge must satisfy himself that the accused person is not of tender years or immature and that he can make a true confession.

Secondly, the accused state of mind at the time of making the confessional statement must be taken into consideration. The judge must ensure that the accused person at the time making the confessional statement is made under delusion or insanity, the confessional statement made under such circumstances should be treated as completely unreliable. Such confessional statement should be seen as made when the accused person was not in control of his mental statement.

Thirdly, the judge must be satisfied that at the time of making the confessional statement, the accused person was not in any way suffering from extreme debility, distress or infirmity of the mind. The judge must also be satisfied that the accused was not placed at a real disadvantage through Mis-apprehension of an important fact.

Fourthly, the accused person if under a drunken state should not be made to make any confessional statement. If the accused person under a drunken state made the confessional statement, the judge must treat such confessional statement inadmissible. It must be taken into cognizance that intoxication (drunkenness) according to the provisions of the criminal code could lead to insanity even though of temporal nature. It would therefore be unjust and contrary to the provision of the criminal code1 to apply on the confessional statement under a drunken state.

5.2 Conclusions

The judge must ensure that at the time an accused person made the confessional statement no deception or trick was practiced on him. Any deception or trick practiced on the accused might lead him to implicate himself.

Section 28 of the Evidence Act, 1990, speaks of inducement, threat or promise must proceed from a person in authority and must have reference to the charge against the accused person. To render any confessional statement inadmissible, it would be sufficient if there is any inducement threat or promise offered to eth accused person.
For example, if eth accused is told “if you confess I will get you a wife” or if you confess I will make you rich” or if you confess I will buy you a car or better accommodation”. Such inducements or promise should be sufficient to render a confession inadmissible.

Under the common law, mere adjuration does not affect the admissibility of confession, under our law does mere adjuration whether on moral o religious grounds affect admissibility of the Evidence Act 1990 speaks of any inducement, threat or promise heed out to the accused person any confessional statement thereby obtained would be inadmissible under section 28.

It is a well – established principle of law that if a confession is freely and voluntarily made, it is admissible. Where an accused person freely and voluntarily make a confessional statement and subsequently retracts, he cannot be made to escape punishment by such retraction, once a confessional statement is made it binds the maker.
A distinction must be drawn between a confession that is objected on the ground that it was not freely and voluntarily made and a confession that is retracted. The two are not one and the same thing.

Where the voluntariness of a confession is in issue, a trial within trial is conducted in order to determine how the confession was received. In conducting the trial within the judge will be able to know whether the making and receiving of such confession was fair to the accused. If the finds that the circumstance under which the accused person made the confession was fair on him, he will accept it. But if he discovers that the circumstance was unfair he will reject the confession. But where a confession is retracted a trial within trial is unnecessary, unwarranted and inappropriate . Where the circumstance in which the confessional statement of the accused person was an unfair one, the accused person has the right to object to its voluntaries when it is tendered in evidence. Ever where the circumstances of taking the confession is highly prejudicial to the accused person, the statement but should not deny making the statement but raise objection to its voluntaries.

There may be situations in which the only evidence is the confessional statement of the accused person which is subsequently retracted. The court can convict the accused on the retracted confession if the court is satisfied that the act to which the accused confessed to actually happened and that the accused made the confession out his own free will and choice and that no force, coercion, oppression or inducement was offered to him.

One important use why confession must ne free and voluntary is that an accused can be convicted solely on it3. Situations may also be arise whereby an accused person makes a confessional statement and on standing trail, a different confessional statement is tendered before the court. It could be that the accused person was forced to sign the reported confessional statements. Under these situations, the accused in all fairness must and should dissociate himself from such statements because such confessional statements cannot be said to be made by him, here, the court may order the police officer in charge of the investigation to go an take a confessional statement from the accused in eth right and proper manner.

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