Law of Evidence

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Michael Redmayne NAB6.13


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

If a person is suspected of committing a crime, how does the prosecution go about proving that they are guilty? Are there any restrictions on the type of evidence that the prosecution can use to prove its case? What protections does the law offer to defendants, to safeguard them against false conviction? These are the central questions in the law of criminal evidence, which looks at the rules governing the use of evidence in criminal trials.

This course concentrates on criminal, rather than civil evidence. The course is taught by seminar, and emphasis is placed on matters of principle and conceptual issues rather than the fine detail of legal rules. The aims of the course are to teach students how to reason about evidence, and to encourage them to reflect critically on the modern law of criminal evidence.
At a more detailed level, we look at issues such as the standard of proof, asking why the standard of proof in criminal trials is beyond reasonable doubt and what reasonable doubt means. We consider how inferences are drawn from evidence, and how basic ideas of probability can give insights on this process. We examine how the police gain confessions from suspects, and how the law regulates the admissibility of confessions. An important theme on the course relates to questions about what makes a trial fair, and here the European Convention on Human Rights is relevant. In this context, we look at whether courts should admit illegally or improperly obtained evidence and ask what the privilege against self-incrimination is and whether it can be justified. Much of the law of evidence involves rules of admissibility, and here we cover hearsay evidence (a topic now with an important human rights angle) and character evidence (can a defendant’s previous convictions be introduced against him at trial?). We also look at expert evidence, concentrating on particular examples such as DNA evidence and fingerprint evidence.

Syllabus: While coverage may vary from year to year, we usually look at the following themes and topics:
Analysing evidence: Probability and reasoning under uncertainty; Inferences from silence. Risk allocation: Burden and standard of proof. Frail evidence: its creation and admissibility; Confessions; Eyewitness identification. Fair trials: Illegally/improperly obtained evidence; The privilege against self-incrimination; Entrapment. Exclusionary rules: Hearsay; Bad Character; Sexual history evidence. Expert evidence: Fingerprints, DNA and others.

The course has a moodle page which you could look at to get a better idea of the topics and the sort of material we look at.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 18 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Indicative reading

There is no set text for the course, but standard texts, eg Ian Dennis, The Law of Evidence (4th edn, 5th edn expected 2013) are useful on many topics.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2012/13: 56

Average class size 2012/13: 28

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills