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The Law and Sufficient Evidence

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 10 Jul 2015 | comments*Discuss
Sufficient Evidence crown Prosecution

When deciding whether an individual who is accused of an offence should be prosecuted, the Crown Prosecution Service will apply two tests to the case:

  • Is there sufficient evidence to secure a conviction?
  • Is a prosecution in the public interest?
The question of public interest is only likely to arise if there is sufficient evidence for an individual to be found guilty at trial. Any trial is costly both in terms of time and money. As these costs are paid out of the public purse they can only be justified if a conviction can be secured.

Evidence comes in many different forms including: witness statements; confessions; items found at the scene; and, samples of bodily fluids.

Admissible Evidence

Not all evidence can be used in court against the accused. There are different reasons why evidence may not be allowed but, broadly, inadmissible evidence falls into two categories:
  • Types of evidence that are never, or not usually, admissible. For example: evidence from phone-tapping is currently inadmissible but there are moves to change the law so that it can be used; hearsay evidence – the court cannot rely on evidence which consists of someone saying, “I know John did it because Jim told me that he did”.
  • Evidence that is not allowed because of the way it was obtained. For example: a confession given during an interview which was improperly conducted; a breath test taken with a faulty machine.
Sometimes a judge will give permission for evidence, which might otherwise have been inadmissible, to be used. This will usually be because the judge has been persuaded by one of the lawyers that the evidence is so valuable that it must be used.

Evidence of Character – Good or Bad

The basic rule is that the Prosecution is not allowed to mention any previous convictions of the accused. The fundamental principle of criminal law is that a person is innocent until proven guilty – regardless of whether they have been in and out of prison all of their lives or have come straight from a convent. However, there are two main cases where previous convictions may be used in a trial:
  • The offence has very specific or unusual elements which are known to be common to previous offences the accused has committed. For example, if a burglar is known to always dress up as a clown before breaking into a fried chicken take-away to steal the takings and this is precisely what the defendant has been accused of, his previous convictions may become relevant.
  • The defendant “puts character in issue”. If the Defence presents the accused as an upstanding citizen who simply could not have done what he is accused of, they are telling the jury that the defendant’s character is a factor which is relevant to their verdict. The Prosecution are then allowed to use evidence of character to rebut this portrayal of the accused and they may tell the court about any previous convictions.

Burden of Proof

In a criminal trial the Prosecution has to be able to prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. This means that the jury, in a Crown Court trial, or the magistrates, in a trial in the Magistrates’ Court, must be sure that the accused is guilty. If they are not sure, or if they think that the accused may or may not be guilty, they will have to find him not guilty.

The question of evidential sufficiency is one which will continue throughout the trial process until a verdict has been returned. For example, the Prosecution will sometimes decide just before a trial starts – or even after it has started - that there is insufficient evidence against the accused. This could be because some new evidence which supports the defendant has come to light or because doubt is cast on an important piece of prosecution evidence. It could even be because an important piece of evidence has been lost.

Sufficient Evidence to Rebut a Defence

If an individual accused of an offence such as assault claims that they were acting in self-defence there will be a further test of evidential sufficiency. Not only must there be enough evidence to prove all the elements of the offence – there must also be enough evidence for the Prosecution to disprove the defence.

When self-defence is raised at trial the defendant only has to put forward enough facts to suggest that he may have been acting in self-defence. The Prosecution, however, has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Defendant was not acting in self-defence.

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Continued from the previous comment,,,, I AM 100% INNOCENT, i do not know the victim my self. nor the people who attacked me except the boy who grabbed me. I would like to know your veiws on this case and what are the likely outcomes, also what evidence would they need to prove me guilty. furthermore will i be able to press charges on the youths who attcked me for assault - the police officer and public are witnesses, i got arrested for suspicion of GBH with no proof but statements from the victim and the youths who attcked me (which is all lies).whilst my attackers got to walk away freely when the police officers and public witness me gettin beaten up. i dont have many injuries other than a swollen side face and a few pains to my neck and back. they caused me physical pain and mental suffering. Please respond to my case as its on going Iv never been arrested before im not on the police system until now im only aged 17, this took place in East London, London, England, UK Im turning 18 in a few days and currently on bail i need to return to the police station on the 25 of august 2015, Please give your veiws on this
sadz - 10-Jul-15 @ 6:08 AM
Hi, i would like your advice and thoughts about the outcome of this case. I was arrested for GBH. Heres the story: Im walking home (with a friend), but i decide to go through the park before i approach the park i can see police cars and so on, once next to the park entrance ( i DID not enter the park) i noticed theres a commotion and something had happend as there was many youths and a bleeding victim (who got stabbed and beaten). therefore i chose to avoid the park and turned around to the opposite footpath, whilst walking on the footpath i was noticed by someone i know from my primary school. he then ran towards me and grabbed me, swearing and shouting stuff like " who did it" (at this time my friend ran away cos he was scared n gettin chased) when he ran towards me a group of boys followed, they all surrounded me and beated me up, punched me kicked me etc, (the side of my head is swollen) at this moment a officer called peter ran towards me and got me on a car and protected me from the attackers, i had my head covered with my hands whilst they still chucked a few punches and spat at me. the officer had to use his batton (police stick) to warn off the attackers, he called for back up, at this time he cuffed me i asked why he said "your a suspect now because they attacked you and for your own safety" he then put in the back of the van for his reason which was my own safety, so i wasnt arrested yet as he didnt read my rights. approximately 10-20 minutes later whilst in the back of the van the officer peter says im arrested for (i quote) "GBH Stabbing" because the victim and the other youths who attacked me said it was me and i am the one who attacked him. i was then searched they took my phone and keys and then taken to the police station.(i stayed over the night in a cell ;() the following day i had an interview with a DC, my solicitor advised me for a written statement and to not ask any questions. during the interview i was told that the victim had filed a case and wanted to press charges on me because apperently a big asain male wearing a blue hoody attacked him with a snooker stick. (i may self im a big asain male i was wearing a blue hoody on that day and grey joggers. the police took my blue hoody and joggers and my shoes for evidence the day i got arrested), following the interview the DC said that the police officers (Peter) statement said that i was in the park then ran away when the victim said thats him. (I WAS NEVER IN THE PARK, i didnt run but i moved back in a fast pace as i saw the group of boys run towards me). the DC asked me many questions which all i answered No Comment yo. i was then released on bail to return on the 25th of August 2015 (the case is on going and im currently on bail) they gave my keys back but kept my phone and clothing and shoes. I AM 100% INNOCENT, i do not know the victim my self. nor the people who attacked me except the boy who grabbed me. I would like to know your veiws on this case and w
sadz - 10-Jul-15 @ 5:09 AM
can you tell me if i will have a criminal record if i never went to court and there was insufficient evidence and i recieve a phone call from the police to say they wernt proceeding with anything
jo - 20-Jul-12 @ 3:23 PM
i have had an allegation of assualt claimed against me, i have not been arrested but went on a voluntary basis to local police station a week after the alleged event to put my side of the story on tape. I have no past criminal record what so ever, and the incident occurred on 11th June, and it is now 4th July and I have heard nothing else since i gave my statement. Is there a time limit whereby the police can bring charges or drop the case? it has been a very difficult period in my life and i can not move on with this hanging over my head, as live in a small town where everyone knows your name and business. Also the landlord of the pub in question was not present but heads the Pub Watch Team and has banned me from 25 pubs in my home town for 3 years resricitng my life and choices.
alison - 4-Jul-12 @ 10:52 AM
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