Area of Law – Evidence
An Article about Circumstantial evidence in a criminal trial
This type of evidence is generally used as a basis for asking the jury to infer guilt.
It is evidence that is used to prove the Crown hpothesis of the guilt of the accused. All the little strands of evidence are woven together and presented as being proof of the guilt of the accused.
The strands of evidence must be such that all other reasonable hypotheses consistent with innocence are excluded. If there is a hypothesis consistent with innocence then the jury must acquit.
Circumstantial evidence often can be explained away as not proving anything (or being wrongly interpreted by the prosecutors). We have won many cases that are based on this sort of evidence.
It can be quite a complex area for a judge to direct on as you will see from the following passage from case law;
“It is true that none of the factors relied upon by the Crown was capable in itself of satisfying the jury beyond reasonable doubt that the applicants had entered into a combination to murder the deceased which Hany Saad carried out by dousing the interior of the car with petrol and setting it alight. But it was not necessary that the jury be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt about any one of those factors. All that was required was that when all of those factors were taken together they were capable of satisfying and did satisfy the jury beyond reasonable doubt that the applicants were guilty.
The point is one of basic importance in any case in which the Crown relies on circumstantial evidence in order to prove its case. As Dawson, J. put it in Shepherd:
“The judgments in Chamberlain do not support the proposition that, in a case resting upon circumstantial evidence, the jury may only properly draw an inference of guilt upon facts — individual items of evidence — proved beyond reasonable doubt. Still less does the case establish that a direction in those terms should be given to a jury. Of course, it is recognized in Chamberlain that, if it is necessary for the jury to reach a conclusion of fact as an indispensable, intermediate step in the reasoning process towards an inference of guilt, then that conclusion must be established beyond reasonable doubt. But to say as much is to do little more than state a truism. It does not mean that each item of evidence taken into account in reaching that conclusion must, considered separately, be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Whether it is desirable for a trial judge to identify an intermediate conclusion of fact in his charge to the jury in order to instruct them that it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt will depend upon the particular case. Such an instruction will only be possible where the conclusion is a necessary link in a chain of reasoning. Even then, particularly when that is obvious, the instruction may not be helpful.”
R v Saad  VSCA 249 (24 October 2005)