If you are being sentenced for an offence, the court will be aware of, and may take into account, any convictions you have. Whether this has any impact upon the sentence passed will very much depend on the date of those convictions and the relevance of any to the more recent offending.

If you plead not guilty, the court or jury can only be made aware of any convictions in certain circumstances. The relevant law is known as the ‘bad character provisions”.

What are the circumstances?

Prior to these provisions being introduced the court could be made aware of any bad character by way of similar fact evidence. So, for example, if a burglar had a particular or unusual way of committing offences, an ‘MO’, the detail could be given to the trial court. Whilst there were other ways in which evidence of bad character could be admitted, the general presumption was against evidence of previous convictions being used.

The new provisions expanded on the old law.

A defendant’s previous convictions may be admitted in court in the following circumstances:

  • all parties agree
  • a defendant introduces them himself
  • it is relevant to an important matter in issue between the defendant and the prosecution
  • it has substantial probative value in relation to an important matter in issue between the defendant and a co-defendant
  • it is necessary to correct a false impression given by the defendant
  • the defendant has made an attack on another person’s character

If you said in evidence when charged with theft, that you would never steal anything, and you had convictions for theft, it would mean the court is likely to be told about them.

If you called the prosecution witness a liar, you might find your convictions before the court.

As with the old law, any convictions based on your ‘MO’ could also be introduced. So, if you have previous convictions for burglary and are now charged with burglary, the prosecution may apply to admit this evidence.

 Does this only apply to defendants?

You can also make an application for the bad character of a non-defendant or witness to be out before the court in certain circumstances.