Lawmakers amend evidence rules

Members of the Legislative Assembly voted to amend the Evidence Law on Friday, in an effort to modernize the rules for admitting hearsay evidence and witness statements at trial.

Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said some aspects of the law had become outdated and it was necessary to bring the Evidence Law in line with current thinking in the common law world.

The bill amends a statute that removed the prosecution’s ability to draw an adverse inference when a defendant does not give evidence at trial. The attorney general said there was no need for this section of the Evidence Law because the issue of adverse inference is now dealt with in the Police Law.

Another amendment provides that if a person at trial attacks someone’s credibility and then chooses not to give evidence, the court may allow evidence to be given about that person’s bad character.

The bill also gives a wide definition of the word “fear,” including “fear of the death or injury of another person or of financial loss.”

The attorney general said this particular provision was helpful in cases of domestic violence where a spouse will make a complaint to the police and there is evidence of trauma, but later refuses to give evidence out of fear.

The bill inserted several new provisions dealing with the use of documents to refresh the memory of witnesses; inconsistent statements; additional requirements for admissibility of multiple hearsay statements; documents produced as exhibits; credibility issues; and the court’s general discretion to exclude evidence.

“I do not see any reason why the opposition would not support this bill,” said Acting Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo. “These changes, from what I can tell, [are] bringing our laws in line with what has become the standard, in particular the Criminal Justice Act in the U.K.”

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