Relevance and ‘Similar Facts’
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To be admissible any item of evidence must be logically relevant to an issue in the proceedings (or a collateral fact such as credibility). If, as a matter of logic, the evidence is unable to suggest whether an assertion of fact is more or less likely to be true it has no probative value: it is logically irrelevant and inadmissible. This is common sense, but unfortunately judges (and commentators) have sown confusion by using the words ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’ in two other ways. Often logically relevant evidence is said to be ‘irrelevant’, meaning that it is insufficiently probative to be admissible. In this sense the question of probative value is confused with the question of logical relevance (that is, whether the evidence has any probative value at all). Evidence is either logically relevant to a matter requiring proof or it is not. Probative value is a question of degree, logical relevance is not. The words ‘relevant’ and ‘irrelevant’ have also occasionally been used as synonyms for ‘admissible’ and ‘inadmissible’. This too should be avoided. Logical relevance is a prerequisite to admissibility, and while evidence which has no probative value can never be admissible, highly cogent evidence may be inadmissible as a matter of law or, in criminal trials, excluded by the judge in the exercise of his discretion.
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