Section 82 of the Act governs the question of relevance or otherwise of evidence of bad character of an accused. As a general rule, the section in sub-section 1 provides inter alia that:
Evidence of the fact that a defendant is of bad character is inadmissible in criminal proceedings.
In Subsection 2 and 3, exceptions to this general rule are created. By the combined effect of the two sub-sections, evidence of bad character of an accused is relevant and admissible in the following three instances.
- When the bad character of the accused person is a fact in issue;
- When the accused person has given evidence of his good character;
- When the accused may be asked questions to show that he is of bad character in the circumstances mentioned in paragraph C of the proviso to Section 180 of the Act.
Testimony of Good Character – Evidence of Bad Character
By virtue of the provision of section 81 of the Act, in criminal proceedings, the fact that the person accused is of good character is relevant, and we may add, ipso facto, admissible.
This evidence may be given either by the accused himself, or elicited from the prosecution witness through cross-examination, or it may also be obtained through witnesses for the defence. The utilitarian value of it is limited for two reasons.
First, for it to be of any probative value, it must relate to the offence charged. Accordingly, where the accused person is standing trial for an offence involving dishonesty, the relevant evidence will be one showing that he is an honest person.
Similarly, if the charge is one involving moral turpitude, evidence of good character which will be relevant is one showing the accused to be a person of good moral standing. See the case of R. V. Williamson.
The second reason why this evidence is of limited value is that if the case against the accused is clearly and strongly established against him, no amount of evidence of good character will demolish such clearly established offence.