Area of Law – Evidence

An Article about Relationship evidence in criminal case

Relationship Evidence
Often you will get your brief of evidence and wonder why there is so much in the statements about things that are not part of the offence. Often this evidence is used to establish the nature of a relationship. For a defendant it can often be very damaging material as the jury will get distracted from the ultimate question (did you commit a crime) by making judgment about your behaviour on other occasions. Where this evidence is given by third parties then it is important to question them to show their bias or that they may have made a mistake in their interpretation of what happenned.

The Prosecutors are very aware that it is damaging evidence for the defence and they will try to use it whenever they can.

Some of the case law on relationship evidence is as follows;

Evidence of previous acts is admissible not to show a general criminal disposition but to show the nature of the relationship between the parties

Harriman v The Queen (1989) 167 CLR 590

This is a matter of common sense which accords with a view of the law of evidence “which rests fundamentally upon the requirement of relevancy, i.e, having a bearing upon the matter in issue”.

“.. to shut the jury off from any event throwing light upon the relationship between this husband and wife would be to require them to decide the issue as if it happened in a vacuum rather than a setting of a tense and bitter relationship between a man and a woman who are husband and wife

Wilson v R (1970) 123 CLR 334

Sexual assault and violence case. Evidence of numerous uncharged acts . Judge charged the jury that evidence admissible to put the evidence of the charged offences into “a more complete and realistic context”. He gave the jury a propensity warning.

“(5) The evidence of uncharged acts of violence was admissible for the three reasons the Judge gave in directing the Jury and could be used for those purposes,namely to establish a violent relationship between the accused and the complainant; to put the evidence of the charged offences of violence into context and to explain the state of mind and behaviour of the complainant.”

The Judge was not required to direct the jury that they had to be satisfied of each uncharged act beyond reasonable doubt. It is usually unwise to give directions about the standard of proof of subsidiary or additional facts. In this case none of the uncharged acts constituted a link in a chain of sequential reasoning.

R v Loguancio [2000] VSCA 33, (2000) 1 VR 235

Evidence that in the course of quarrels with the accused the deceased said “I only know you want to kill me for my money” and “I know you want to kill me, why don’t you get it over with” was admissible.

The statements were relevant to the relationship existing between the deceased and the accused so as to explain the act charged and they assisted the jury to decide between explanations of the act tending to show that the wife was murdered or that she died as a result of an accident.

(Claim was shotgun on top of hay bales went off accidentally shooting wife in back of head)

Wilson v R (1970) 123 CLR 334

Case where explosive material thrown into the driveway of solicitor’s house. He gave evidence that two years before the incident the accused had threatened to blow up his house:

“There was a real nexus between the applicant’s telephone threat to L and the explosion. The evidence of the telephone conversation was evidence of motive and not of propensity; it was part of the history of events showing the state of relations between the Applicant and L and there was no evidence that those relations had improved or would have been likely to have improved during the two years following the threat”

R v Mackay [1985] VR 623

Vicious assault on wife while drug affected. Long history of harming her.

“Almost invariably on charges involving personal violence the relationship of the parties is relevant , certainly where the intention of the accused is in issue.”

“The fact that the relationship was one of constant or intermittent violence was cogent evidence upon which the jury might rely to exclude the possibility that his acts were but the chance consequences of his addiction to drugs and alcohol”.

R v Selman Mata VSCA N0 70 of 1996


Date: 01/09/2009