Dickinson v Yates: CA 27 Nov 1986

The claimant sought damages against the police for assault, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution arising from an arrest for a suspected drink-driving offence. He was acquitted of charges of assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty and failing to give a sample under the Road Traffic Act 1972. The police defended the action on the basis that the arrest had been lawful, and any injuries sustained by the claimant had only occurred because of the way in which he had resisted that arrest. In the civil action the defendants sought to rely upon the claimant’s previous convictions, which included offences under ss. 20 and 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and were spent. The only issue to which the convictions were relevant was the claimant’s credibility as a witness in the civil proceedings. There was no suggestion of the convictions being relied upon to establish a propensity to be violent. The trial judge refused to allow any of the convictions to be admitted.
Held: He had applied the correct test and the court saw no basis for interfering with his decision.
Purchas LJ described s.7(3) as a ‘safety valve’ to prevent an injustice occurring through the application of section 4(1). He stated that the correct approach must be ‘to see if there is a danger of an injustice being committed as a result of the rigid application of section 4 and unless he [the judicial authority] is satisfied that that is the case, in other words that justice cannot be done without avoiding the provisions of section 4, then the provisions of section 4 ought to stand unaffected by the provisions of section 7’ (i.e. s. 7(3)). Purchas LJ also stated that in reaching a conclusion on that matter, regard may be had to the penalty imposed for a spent conviction and the gravity of the offence.
Nourse LJ agreed that for s.7(3) to apply the court ‘must be satisfied that justice cannot be done except by letting in evidence of the spent conviction’. We have not seen anything in subsequent authorities to justify a departure from that test, founded upon the clear language of the legislation.


Nourse LJ, Purchas LJ


Unreported, 27 November 1986


Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974


England and Wales


CitedClifford v Clifford 1961
The court stated the common law position of the cross examination of a defendant on his antecedents. Cairns J said: ‘The range of permissible cross-examination as to credit is, however, a very wide one. It has never, I think, been doubted that a . .

Cited by:

CitedHussain and Others v London Borough of Waltham Forest UTLC 5-Nov-2019
Housing – Licensing under parts 2 and 3 of the Housing Act 2004 – requirement for a licence holder to be a ‘fit and proper person’ – Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 – treatment of spent convictions of a rehabilitated person and related criminal . .
CitedHussain and Others v The London Borough of Waltham Forest CA 19-Nov-2020
Facts of Spent Conviction Admissible at Common Law
The claimants sought licenses to manage houses in multiple occupation, but were refused, the council relying on spent convictions. The claimants sought summarily to strike out those parts of the pleadings referring to the spent convictions.
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Evidence

Updated: 08 April 2022; Ref: scu.656221