Categorized | Case Law

Hearsay Evidence

Hearsay Evidence

In a recent judgment*, the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, held that a criminal trial could be fair although the defence did not have the opportunity of examining every prosecution witness.

Their Lordships had before them three cases which had in common the proper approach to hearsay evidence. In the first (Horncastle and Blackmore), the witness was dead, but had made a full written statement before he died. In the second (Marquis and Graham), the witness, who again had made detailed statements, refused to attend because she was frightened for her safety, indeed for her life. In the third (Carter), what was sought to be introduced as evidence was the product of business records in a large public company. The principal argument raised in these appeals was that the admission of hearsay evidence meant that the convictions involved an infringement of the right to a fair trial under Article 6, and in particular a breach of Article 6(3)(d), of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as the convictions were based solely or to a decisive degree on the hearsay admitted as evidence. In consequence, it was argued, the convictions were unsafe and ought to be quashed.

Article 6 of the ECHR states that:

(1) In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
…..
(3) Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
….
(d) to have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him.
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These provisions of the ECHR have been given specific effect in the law of the United Kingdom by means of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The judgment details how the law in England and Wales had always insisted that it is ordinarily essential that evidence of the truth of a matter be given in person by a witness who speaks from his own observation or knowledge. The weakness of hearsay evidence is that “the fact finder never sees the person who gives the evidence which he must evaluate, and the parties cannot ask supplementary or testing questions”. The default rule of the criminal law of England and Wales had always been that hearsay was inadmissible. Unmodified, however, it was held that such a blanket rule created many examples of injustice. The 1993 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice recommended that reform must be considered. Its detailed recommendations were adopted by Parliament which passed a new comprehensive statutory code relating to all issues of hearsay in criminal proceedings in the form of Part 11, Chapter 2 of the CJA 2003.

Their Lordships held that in each case before them the admission and use of the evidence was governed by the provisions of sections 114 to 136 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. They concluded that “the principled solution provided for by the 2003 Act in relation to hearsay evidence is consistent with article 6(3)(d) and is not further qualified by a separate test relating to whether the evidence was sole or decisive in the case.”

* The full text of the judgment, dated 22 May 2009, in Horncastle & Blackmore; Marquis & Graham; Carter; and Regina, before Lord Justice Thomas, Lord Justice Hughes, Mr Justice Penry-Davey, Mr Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Wyn Williams, Neutral Citation Number: [2009] EWCA Crim 964, can be found at:

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2009/964.html

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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