Law of Evidence
This information is for the 2020/21 session.
Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah and Dr Federico Picinali
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.
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 as well as 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. As far as pre-trial procedures are concerned, we examine – among other things – how the police gain confessions from suspects and produce eyewitness identification evidence; we also look at how the law regulates the admissibility of these types of evidence. 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 – among other things – 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 ‘traditional’ rules such as those 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 of evidence concerning the sexual history of complainants in trials for sexual offences.
Syllabus: While coverage may vary from year to year, we usually focus on the following themes and topics:
Reasoning with Evidence:
- Analysing Evidence: Relevance, Probative Value and Generalisations;
- The Standard of Proof;
- The Burden of Proof and the Presumption of Innocence;
Trial Fairness and the Gathering of the Evidence:
- Improperly Obtained Evidence;
- Eyewitness Identification;
Traditional Rules of Admissibility:
- Bad Character Evidence;
Trial Fairness and Defendant Cooperation:
- The Privilege Against Self-Incrimination;
- Drawing Inferences from Silence;
- Examination of Witnesses
- Vulnerable Witnesses;
- Sexual History Evidence.
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.
This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.
Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT.
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, 6th ed, 2017); A. Choo, Evidence (Oxford: OUP, 5th ed, 2018); R. Munday, Evidence (Oxford: OUP, 10th ed, 2019).
Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.
Important information in response to COVID-19
Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.
Total students 2019/20: 30
Average class size 2019/20: 10
Capped 2019/20: Yes (45)
Value: One Unit
Personal development skills
- Specialist skills