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"The Concept Of Relevance In The Law Of Evidence Is Not As Straightforwad As It Appears To Be." Discuss

2163 words - 9 pages


It is difficult to spell out a straightforward definition of the concept of relevance (Tapper, p71). In the R v Nethercott case, it was held that any two facts to which the concept of relevance is applied are so related to each other that according to the common course of events, one either taken by itself or in connection with other facts, proves or renders probable the past, present or future existence or non-existence of the other. According to Lord Simon in DPP v Kilbourne, “Evidence is relevant if it is logically probative of some matter which requires proof… It is sufficient to ...view middle of the document...

An alternative explanation can always be found for what appears to be the most compelling piece of evidence. It follows that the mere fact that evidence is admissible does not necessarily mean it will be admitted, since the judge has the explicit discretion to exclude certain evidence (Dennis, p71).

The basic test of relevance is a matter of logic and common sense. The law cannot prescribe rules to determine whether a piece of evidence has sufficient probative potential to justify its reception. In applying the rest of relevance, care must be taken with regard to the selection of the appropriate major premise. For example, one cannot ascertain that a majority of people who plan to kill a particular person actually do so, yet there may be no doubt of the relevance in a murder case of the accused’s plan to kill the deceased. The appropriate premise, for example, is not ‘those who plan to kill a particular person usually do so’, but ‘those who plan to kill a particular person are more likely to do so than those who have no such plan’. The whole point of circumstantial evidence is to establish the accused’s membership of a number of different classes of persons more likely than non-members to have done or omitted to do some act.

The threshold that an item of evidence must overcome to be sufficiently relevant is not a high one. There is a considerable amount of leeway to admit items that are essentially background in character and which are offered as an aid to understanding. This leeway is the reason why there is relative difficulty in the UK in determining the admission of relevant evidence. Relevance in itself is not an inherent characteristic of any item of evidence, but it exists only as a relation between an item of evidence and some other matter which requires to be proved. It is sufficiently relevant when it renders the existence of the other matter more or less probable The appeal courts do not lay guidelines as to when evidence is admissible, although they may interfere with the trial judge’s discretion when the evidence is insufficiently relevant. Notwithstanding, any item of evidence should not necessarily be considered in isolation; its relevance should be considered in the context of the evidence as a whole.

Notwithstanding this threshold, the introduction of exclusionary rules further complicates the concept of relevance. Even where the evidence is relevant, with sufficient probative weight and non-prejudicial, it might still be the subject of an exclusionary rule as was held in the Sang [1979] case (Dennis, p83). The general rule that all relevant evidence is admissible is conclusively subject to a number of exceptions. For example, an out-of-court assertion by a third party that he committed an offence with which the accused is charged is excluded under the rule against hearsay (despite its high degree of relevance) on the reasoning that the witness who narrates the third party’s statement to the court may have no...

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