Washington Law Review


Story Birdseye


One of.the most ancient of all legal doctrines is the "best evidence rule," although originally it had a much broader meaning than at present. According to the early view, it meant that only the best evidence which could be produced was admissible, it was applicable to all classes of evidence and not confined to documents. In its modern application, however, the best evidence rule amounts only to the requirement that the contents of a written instrument must be proved by the introduction of the writing itself, unless its absence is satisfactorily accounted for. The reason for this law of evidence is obvious—the original is the primary evidence of its own contents and precludes the inaccuracies that might appear in copies or parol testimony, it serves as a protection against fraud and mistake. This interesting development of such an important rule has resulted in great confusion as to what the term "best evidence" signifies. Whereas it was originally interpreted quite literally, it has now come to have an altogether different meaning—one not in harmony with the connotation of its title. By substituting the word "primary" for the word "best," a more accurate descriptive term is had, and it is in this sense that the expression "best evidence" is used in this article.

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