Admissibility of defendant's bad character in criminal proceedings

The following Corporate Crime practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Admissibility of defendant's bad character in criminal proceedings
  • What is bad character?
  • What is excluded from the definition of bad character?
  • The statutory gateways
  • Is bad character evidence limited to a specific purpose?
  • Relevance of bad character to prove guilt or untruthfulness
  • The court's approach to determining propensity
  • Evidence of bad character going to matter in issue between co-defendants
  • Evidence of bad character to correct a false impression
  • Evidence of bad character to counter an attack on another person's character
  • More...

Admissibility of defendant's bad character in criminal proceedings

What is bad character?

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (CJA 2003) governs the admissibility of the 'bad character' of a defendant.

The starting point is to identify whether the evidence the prosecution seeks to rely on satisfies the definition of 'bad character' as set out in CJA 2003, s 98.

'Bad character' is very broadly defined under CJA 2003, s 98. It means 'evidence of, or a disposition towards, misconduct' or other 'reprehensible behaviour' other than evidence which:

  1. has to do with the alleged facts of the offence with which the defendant is charged or

  2. is evidence of misconduct in connection with the investigation or prosecution of that offence

Bad character therefore includes evidence of previous convictions and cautions. It has also been held to encompass misconduct for which the defendant has never been prosecuted for (see R v J); misconduct for which the defendant has been acquitted (see R v Z) and even misconduct not amounting to a criminal offence (see Saleem).

This definition is important because if the evidence is 'bad character' within meaning of CJA 2003 it will only be admissible if it falls within specific statutory gateways of admissibility. These gateways do not apply if the evidence is not 'bad character' under CJA 2003; the conduct in question will be admissible without reference to the statutory

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