Is evidence of bad character admissible?

Evidence in criminal proceedings 

There are several types of evidence which may or may not be admissible in relation to criminal proceedings. All depends on the nature of the evidence. Examples include oral evidence, documentary evidence, real evidence (e.g.  the weapon), circumstantial evidence (e.g. fingerprints, motive). There are several factors which help in deciding whether the evidence is admissible or not. First of all, the evidence must be relevant to the facts of the case and must have sufficient weight in order for it to be admissible. However if the evidence is inadmissible the fact that it is relevant in the proceedings does not play any role. Evidence which is normally excluded is non-expert opinion evidence, evidence of bad character or previous convictions,hearsay evidence, privilege, public policy, confessions made by oppression, unreliable evidence or evidence which would have adverse effect on the proceedings. It is important that you are aware of what sort of evidence is admissible in relation to your proceedings.

Bad character evidence

In order to asses the credibility of the evidence it is helpful to have the knowledge of the past behaviour or character of the defendant. The question is whether this is admissible as it could considerably damage the defendant if he or she is of a bad character. The same test applies to the witnesses. The judge can sometimes make a direction for the jury which is called ‘Vye direction’ and this will draw the attention of the jury to the defendant’s good character which will have a positive effect on the proceedings.  Evidence of a bad character refers mainly to the defendant’s previous convictions. Evidence of a bad character has also been defined as ‘evidence of or disposition towards, misconduct.’ Such misconduct was defined by the Criminal Justice Act and may include any disciplinary actions taken against the defendant by his employer, previous convictions and acquittals, or some other evidence given by a particular witness referring to the bad character of the defendant. There are some exceptions e.g. failure to attend the court or breach of the bail conditions which refer to the investigation of the offence for which the accused is prosecuted and these will not amount to the evidence of bad character.

Admissibility of evidence of bad character  

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For more information on:

  • Admissibility of confessions