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In any trial the tribunal of fact is faced with a number of key factual issues — the ‘ultimate’ or ‘material’ issues — upon which its final verdict or judgment will depend. In order to come to a decision on these issues the tribunal of fact is obliged to consider, and entitled to draw inferences from, all the available evidence including the testimony of any witnesses who have been called. Witnesses are generally limited to testifying as to facts within their personal knowledge. They have no general right to draw inferences of their own or to give their opinions on the ultimate issues, for these have traditionally been seen as the preserve of the tribunal of fact. In most cases, then, witnesses’ opinions are regarded as irrelevant and so inadmissible, but there are two important exceptions to this rule. First, it will often be impossible for a witness not to state certain inferences of his own when describing facts directly perceived by him (at least if he is to give his oral evidence in a natural way), and any attempt to prevent such inferences would be impracticable. For this reason witnesses may give their evidence in the way that they would describe events if speaking out of court, even if this means that certain inferences will be conveyed by them as if they were incontrovertible facts. Secondly, experts in specialised fields are allowed to give their own opinions on matters falling within their expertise if the tribunal of fact would not be able to decide an ultimate issue in the absence of such assistance.
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