To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what his Department's policy in on the use of character witnesses during trials for (a) victims and (b) perpetrators of historical sexual abuse.
8 July 2020
In criminal trials, including of offences of historical sexual abuse, rules of evidence do not permit the Crown to call evidence of the good character of a prosecution witness in order to bolster their credibility. The law assumes victims to be truthful and credible, and restricts the ways in which their veracity and credibility can be challenged by the defence; evidence of a victim’s good character is therefore not relevant to what is in issue, and is not admissible.
Defendants also are assumed to be of good character unless there is evidence to the contrary. Where the prosecution does rely on bad character evidence against the defendant (and there are fewer restrictions on the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s alleged bad character than there are in relation to a witness’ bad character), then character evidence might be relevant to contradict it.