The Criminal Evidence Act (CEA) 2019 governs the admission of bad character [BC] and hearsay evidence in the Isle of Man. Its impact will be transformative. Admission of this evidence will now become more common, provided the evidence is relevant, reliable and can be tested.
The Act defines hearsay and BC, divides each into categories, and creates a series of steps to be traversed before admission. This article is too short for an exposition of these provisions. They are vital, and the words of the statute must be carefully considered. The general effect is to widen admissibility, subject to protections:
Hearsay and BC were always considered relevant. Hearsay was restricted because it was considered to be inherently unreliable. The admission of D’s BC was constrained because it was considered to be prejudicial.
These restrictions reflected two fundamental beliefs: that D must not be wrongly convicted; that a jury cannot be trusted to evaluate evidence if it is difficult to assess or is liable to provoke emotion.
Those fundamental beliefs produced rules which were inflexible. Such rules could contravene the requirements of a fair trial:
The new philosophy is that:
Applying this philosophy, the criteria for admissibility for both parties is similar, the focus is on relevance, reliability and proper testing, and residual fears of prejudice are countered by discretionary measures. This doesn’t mean admission is easy. The Act contains a code designed to ensure evidence is only admitted when it is fair to do so. Evidence must be rigorously examined to ensure the statutory conditions are met. Relevance and reliability must be rationally demonstrated.
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