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In any type of legal case, you need to prove to a court that your “version of events” (i.e. what you are saying happened) actually happened. To prove your case, you will need evidence.
Evidence is information in material, oral, written or “real” form that is presented to the court to prove a fact in dispute and to enable the court to reach a conclusion.
What is “real” evidence?
Real evidence is physical and can consist of any material objects that may support your case. Photographs, tape recordings and computer printouts are all examples of real evidence.
What you need to prove will depend on:
Later sections in this Guide will go into more detail on these issues. However, it will generally be important to prove the following issues:
- Who: which police force and/or officer are you complaining about?
- When did the incident happen (date, time)?
- Where did the incident happen (public space, private space, address)?
- What was the nature of the incident? What happened?
- Why do you think the incident occurred? (e.g. discrimination, information the police had etc)
- Why are you unhappy with what happened?
- Were there any witnesses to the incident who can corroborate your compliant (note any names, contact number, address, relation to you)?
- Have you already complained to a member of the police force about the issue (reference number)?
- What is the status of the case against you after you were arrested?
It is important to collect evidence as soon as possible.
First, it is helpful to have a set of facts that describes what happened. You may not be able to remember all key details by the time of a potential trial, so try to keep records of events. For example, you could write down what happened when you got arrested as you remember it.
Then you need to gather evidence to support this set of facts. The following could be important evidence in your case.
To strengthen your complaint, you should consider obtaining the following evidence:
- Your witness statements. Your own account should be written down as soon as possible. For tips on how to write a witness statement, see the A4J Guide on Witness Statements;
- Police records of the arrest. In many countries, police have to make a record of arrests that identifies the officers involved, the reason why you were arrested and the circumstances around your arrest. Getting this early can be valuable if the police try to change their story;
- The name of the officer conducting the search and their respective police station. This information could appear on their uniform, badge or in the arrest record relating to the arrest;
- Interviews with the relevant law enforcement officers. Once you have been arrested, there will usually be an interview and a record of this interview. Request this record if you have not received it;
- Other persons witness statements. Were there friends and family at the scene? They could be witnesses. Take a note of anyone else who may have seen the arrest (and their personal information). Ask any person who was a witness to the events to write their own, independent accounts, as soon as possible;
- Videos, photos or audio. This could be video, or audio footage taken by yourself, witnesses, CCTV or police ‘body cameras’. If you think there was CCTV or body camera footage, you may have to request that this is disclosed;
- Police policies or codes of conduct. Although these may not be laws, it could strengthen your case if you can show these have been breached;
- Any other documentation such as telephone records, messages or notes that were written down at the time of the arrest; and
- Court documents relating to your arrest.
Collecting such evidence can take some time and involve contacting and meeting people such as victims, witnesses and experts. It may also involve going to the place where the arrest was committed.
It is usually vital to get support from a lawyer or a supportive organisation to help you with the evidence gathering process. If this is not possible, friends and family can be important sources of support. This is especially true if you are in detention and trying to gather evidence.
You must gather evidence that will be accepted in court (this is called “admissible evidence”).
For general tips on how to gather evidence, go to How Can I Prove My Case? in the A4J Going to Court: Q&A.