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  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Piyel Haldar
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (50%) and an unseen examination (50%)

Module description

In this module we critically examine the diversity of rules and doctrine that compose the law of evidence and determine the presentation of facts in the modern common law trial. Moreover, we examine reasons for the development of the adversarial and exclusionary system of fact finding and the effect of these developments on the manner in which decisions are reached in court.

First, we focus on theoretical assumptions made by common lawyers and evidence scholars between facts and truth. This involves a brief examination of the way in which broader influences such as utilitarianism, pragmatism and the emergence of the legal profession have shaped the development of the adversarial trial. We shall also discuss the exclusion or denigration of rhetoric as key to an understanding of modern attitudes towards fact finding.

We then focus on forensic sciences and their place within the rules of evidence. We will examine the use of documents, photography and surveillance records, and use the history and development of photography as a means to debate the relationship between facts and truth. This will be contrasted with the reliance that has traditionally been placed on oral testimony. Here, we shall provide a critical appraisal of the rules regarding the competency, compellability and character of the witness. Certain classes of testimony, such as corroboration and confessions, will also be examined.

Finally, we will look more specifically at the exclusionary rules of evidence. We will concentrate largely on certain categories of evidence that have been denied probative value. These include circumstantial evidence, opinion evidence and the sub-category of expert opinion, as well as upon the complex rules relating to hearsay and confession evidence.