HC Deb 07 March 2003 vol 400 cc1299-300W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment he has undertaken of the risk of false conviction arising as a result of the implementation of Clause 81 of the Criminal Justice Bill. [100136]

Hilary Benn

Clauses 81 to 97 of the Criminal Justice Bill sets out a new statutory scheme for admitting evidence of a person's bad character. Clause 81 defines the range of evidence whose admissibility is to be determined under the new rules. It does not follow that any evidence that comes within this definition is admissible. But it does ensure that any such evidence can only be admitted under the Bill's scheme.

In terms of admitting evidence, clauses 83 and 84 set out, for non-defendants and defendants respectively, the circumstances in which evidence that falls under clause 81 can be admitted. These ensure that evidence will only be admitted where it will have a clear bearing on the issues in the case.

The scheme includes a number of important safeguards. These include, in the case of defendants, the fact that evidence is to be excluded in appropriate circumstances if admitting it would adversely affect the fairness of proceedings. In applying this test, the courts will weigh the possible prejudicial effect of the evidence against its probative value and exclude the evidence where the likely prejudice would exceed it.

The new rules will therefore assist juries and magistrates to reach proper and fair verdicts by enabling them to hear a wider range of relevant evidence while ensuring that evidence that is likely to be given too much weight or might distort a court's assessment of the issues is excluded.