The law of evidence is a fascinating blend of practical and academic issues. It is practical because it is the law which is applied in the courts every day to determine, inter alia, whether evidence ought to be admitted, the use which may be made of evidence once it has been admitted, and the way in which witnesses may be questioned. It is a body of law which must be known and understood thoroughly by any advocate (but particularly by those who practise in the criminal courts) as he or she may need to make submissions on a point of evidential law at very short notice. But this does not mean the law of evidence is simply a body of rules to be learnt off by heart. Far from it. The law of evidence is a discipline which ought to be studied at an academic level, and this is as true for the prospective advocate as it is for any other student of the subject. Much of the law of evidence is indeterminate, and the student or advocate will only be able to support his or her submissions on what the law is, or on what it ought to be, if the subject has been studied at an academic level and the principles and considerations of policy underlying its evolution understood. One can, for example, only comprehend the law of criminal evidence if something is known of the rights-based theories of jurisprudence, of concepts such as ‘logical relevance’ and ‘proof’, and of the weaknesses and prejudices which are an inextricable aspect of the human psyche.
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