Law of Evidence

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Federico Picinali, NAB 5.10


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 she is 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 in order to safeguard them against false conviction? These are among the central questions in the law of criminal evidence, that is, the set of rules governing the production and the use of evidence in criminal trials.

This course concentrates on criminal, rather than civil evidence, 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 consider how inferences are drawn from evidence, and how basic ideas of probability can give insights on this process. We study the standard of proof, asking whether a high standard such as ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ is justified. We examine how the police gain confessions from suspects, and how the law regulates the admissibility of confessions. A central theme on the course is the question as to what makes a trial fair. The European Convention on Human Rights is relevant to this question. In this context, we look at whether courts should admit improperly obtained evidence and we ask what the privilege against self-incrimination is and whether it can be justified. As you will learn, much of the law of evidence involves rules of admissibility. Among these we cover the rules regulating the admissibility of hearsay evidence (a topic that now has an important human rights angle) and of bad character evidence (can a defendant’s previous convictions be introduced against her at trial?). We also look at particular problems relating to testimony, ranging from the protections afforded to vulnerable witnesses to the admissibility and presentation of expert evidence.


While coverage may vary from year to year, we usually focus on the following themes and topics:


Reasoning with Evidence:

o Analysing Evidence: Relevance, Probative Value and Generalisations;

o The Standard of Proof;

o The Burden of Proof and the Presumption of Innocence;


Trial Fairness and Pre-Trial Proceedings:

o The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination;

o Entrapment;

o Improperly Obtained Evidence;

o Eyewitness Identification;

o Confessions;

o Drawing Inferences from Silence;


Traditional Rules of Use;

o Hearsay;

o Confrontation;

o Bad Character Evidence;



o Sexual History Evidence;

o Vulnerable Witnesses;

o Expert Testimony.


The course has a Moodle page. You are encouraged to consult it should you want more information on the themes, the topics, and the sort of material that we study.


20 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of classes 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 are useful on many topics. Consider, for instance, I. H. Dennis, The Law of Evidence (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 5th ed, 2013); A. Choo, Evidence (Oxford: OUP, 4th ed, 2015); R. Munday, Evidence (Oxford: OUP, 8th ed, 2015).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2015/16: 78

Average class size 2015/16: 15

Capped 2015/16: Yes (75)

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills