Comments: a party’s character is itself a fact



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Section 52 lays down the general rule that the evidence of character of a person in civil case is not relevant unless the character itself is issue. The reason is that the court is to try the case on the basis of facts not on the basis of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character of the parties. It was remarked, “the business of the court is to try the case and not the man, and a very bad man may have a very righteous cause.”—Wigmore

The exclusion of evidence of character in civil cases is therefore absolute. Civil liability is exclusively measured by the magnitude of the harm alone. In civil case, the previous convictions of the defendant are irrelevant.

Exceptions to the general rule:

There are exceptions to the rule that character is irrelevant unless it is in issue.

1. When character is in issue. Evidence can be given when a party’s character is itself a fact in issue. For example, a suit for libel or a divorce suit..

2. Character as to affect damages. When the character of any person is such as to affect the amount of damages which he ought to receive, is relevant. In mitigating damages the evidence of character is relevant.

3. When character became issue from other relevant fact. The facts which are otherwise relevant, are relevant (Section 11) can be taken into account if the court forms an opinion that the character of the party might have been guilty of conduct imported to him or he might not be worthy of credit.