Bad character evidence

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The Criminal Justice Act 2003 applicable in England and Wales, and to a lesser extent Scotland and Northern Ireland, implemented fundamental changes to the admissibility of evidence relating to character, in respect to defendants and others. The Act is far-reaching, providing for the admissibility of previous convictions in support of a propensity to commit like-offences and untruthfulness.[1] Common law rules in relation to the admissibility of bad character evidence have been abolished, with the existence of one exception.[2]

The legislation draws heavily on the Law Commission Paper No. 273.[3]


Bad character evidence is evidence of, or a disposition towards misconduct; other than evidence which has to do with the alleged facts of the offence with which the defendant is charged or is evidence of misconduct in connection with the investigation or prosecution of that offence.[4] Misconduct is defined as "the commission of an offence or other reprehensible behaviour".[5] Bad character in relation to the alleged facts offence itself has always been admissible for obvious reasons. The Act provides for different rules in relation to the bad character of defendants, and that of non-defendants. In assessing the probative value of evidence it is assumed to be true, unless there is material to suggest the contrary.[6]

Apart from evidence of previous convictions, other evidence, amounting to "reprehensible behaviour" is admissible. The Government stated the following during debate:

"Examples of where it might be appropriate to admit such evidence include circumstances where evidence on a number of charges being tried concurrently is cross-admissible in respect of the other charges.
It might also be appropriate to admit evidence relating to charges on which the defendant was acquitted, as I have already cited in the example of.[7] It would be unfortunate if an argument were to be accepted that, because a person has not actually been convicted of the offence, it cannot be said that the evidence shows that he has indeed committed such an offence and it is therefore excluded".[8]

Exclusion of bad character evidence[edit]

In addition to the statutory tests for exclusion of bad character evidence the power to exclude evidence under section 78 PACE 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is not affected by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provisions (House of Lords, Hansard, 19 November 2003, Col. 1988). Bad Character evidence may be excluded on the grounds of unfairness.[8]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Section 103". Criminal Justice Act. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  2. ^ "Section 99(2)". Criminal Justice Act 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  3. ^ "Law Commission Paper No. 273" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  4. ^ "Section 98". Criminal Justice Act 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-10-23. 
  5. ^ "Section 112(1)". Criminal Justice Act 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. 
  6. ^ "Section 109". Criminal Justice Act 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. 
  7. ^ "R v Z". Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  8. ^ a b CrimeLine Training Limited (2011). "Welcome to CrimeLine Resources" (PDF). CrimeLine Resources. CrimeLine Training Limited. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 

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