Relevance

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This article is a topic within the subject Court Process, Evidence and Proof.

Contents

Required Reading

Primary Material, Vol 1, Chapter 4.

Introduction

Evidence can only be admitted to court if they are relevant.  The test of relevance and the relevant principles are now governed by the Chapter 3 of the Uniform Evidence Act 1995, which are an approximation of the old common law principles.

Common law relevance

Under common law, relevance was divided into two parts: logical relevance and legal relevance.

  • Logical relevance refers to whether the evidence actually seems to have probative value – ie, is the evidence likely to affect the jury’s mind as to a fact in issue.
  • Legal relevance is a weighing exercise where the probative value of the evidence is measured against opposing considerations, such as potential to confuse, danger of wasting time, or potential of creating prejudices.
  •  Probative value is defined the UAE dictionary asthe extent to which the evidence could rationally affect the assessment of the probability of the existence of a fact in.

This was discussed in R v Stephenson:

  • Facts: the defendant was accused of driving negligently and killing the three people in the car he collided with. The defendant argued that the blood alcohol level of the three people from the other car was relevant.
  • Held:  the driver of the car was not known, and therefore the evidence was not relevant, not even if all of them were over the limit.
    • Irrelevant if its weight is so minimal that it does not serve to add or detract from the probability of the principle issue being established.

Statutory scheme

The statutory scheme reenacts the common law principles. The distinction between logical and legal relevance is maintained, but it is separated between relevance (logical) and discretion to exclude (legal). Key provisions include:

  • S 55 – key relevance provision: “The evidence that is relevant in a proceeding is evidence that, if it were accepted, could rationally affect (directly or indirectly) the assessment of the probability of the existence of a fact in issue in the proceeding.
  • Only refers to logical relevance.
  • S 56 – only relevant evidence is admissible.
  • Ss 135 - 137 – discretions to exclude/limit use of evidence, mandatory exclusions of evidence.
    • This is where legal relevance comes in.

‘Fact in issue’

S 55 requires that evidence relates to a ‘fact in issue’. This is interpreted as relating to issues in the proceeding defined by substantive law and pleadings and thus would extend to facts to be proved in undefended or ex parte proceedings.

  • In a civil proceeding – factual elements of any legal cause of action or legal defence relied upon by parties.
  • In a criminal proceeding – factual elements of the charged offence and any defence.

This was discussed in Goldsmith v Sandilands:

  • ‘Fact in issue’ refers to any issues that have to be proven or are relevant if proven to a party’s case.
  • Includes material facts that provide any justification or excuse as a defence to the cause of action. 
  • Whether it is a fact in issue depends upon the pleadings.
  • Might be expressed in terms of its relationship to a fact relevant to a fact in issue… “when it is so related to that fact that, according to the ordinary course of events, either by itself or in connection with other facts, it proves or makes probable the past, present or future existence or non-existence of the other fact” – McHugh J.

‘Could rationally affect'

S 55 requires that the evidence in question "could rationally affect...".

  • 'Could' v "'Would' - this refers to a possibility as opposed to a certainty. There needs to be potential for the evidence in question to affect the juries' mind.

This was discussed in R v Smith:

  • Facts: robbery case. There was a still photograph of the robbery which depicted a man in a hat. The prosecution sought to admit evidence in the form of police officers who knew the accused and would testify that the man in the photo is him.
  • Held: the evidence could not rationally affect the mind of the juries - it doesn't tell them anything new, because they have the same ability as the officers to look at the photo, look at the accused, and make an assessment. Not relevant.
    • Evidence may have been relevant if prosecution witnesses had knowledge beyond what the jury could see for itself -eg, identifying feature such as clothing (R v Goodall, or a change of appearance between the incident and trial (R v Palmer)


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