G (An Infant) v Coltart: 1967

The defendant was a domestic servant. She was charged in two separate prosecutions before justices with theft of property from her employer and from a a guest. The property was found in her room after the guest had left. The prosecution offered no evidence on the alleged theft from the guest who had gone to South Africa and was unavailable as a witness, and that charge was dismissed. On the remaining trial she said she had always intended to return the property, and to rebut this defence the prosecution adduced evidence that she had been told that the guest was leaving for South Africa the next morning but she had not returned her property to her and therefore it was to be inferred that she had not intended to return Mr. Tod’s property.
Held: Since the only relevance of this evidence was to show that the defendant was in fact guilty of the charge of theft of which she had been acquitted, the evidence had been wrongly admitted and the conviction was quashed.
(Salmon LJ) ‘It is plain, I think, that what the prosecution were seeking to do was to show that the defendant was really guilty in respect of the charge of which she had just been acquitted in order to obtain a conviction in the Tod case. I am quite satisfied that that cannot be done. . . .
There is very little authority on this point. I think however on general principles that it would be quite wrong to allow the prosecution in order to obtain a conviction in case B to seek to show that the defendant was guilty in case A, after the defendant has been acquitted in case A. I have no doubt that, even though the defendant is acquitted in case A, evidence called against the defendant in case A could be relevant in case B, for example, to show what his intent was in case B. But it can never be permissible in case B to rely on the guilt of the defendant in case A if he has been acquitted in case A.’
Widgery J: ‘If a person charged with a criminal offence is acquitted by a court of competent jurisdiction, it seems to me clear that the prosecution on a subsequent charge brought against that person cannot seek to prove that he was guilty of the first charge contrary to the verdict of the court on that charge, in order to obtain the benefit of any conclusion which might flow from such guilt.
That is exactly what the prosecution sought to do here, because as far as I can see, the incident relating to Mrs. Doig had absolutely no relevance in regard to Mrs. Tod’s jewellery except on the basis that the defendant was guilty of larceny in relation to Mrs. Doig’s jewellery, and must on that account have been guilty in regard to Mrs. Tod’s as well. I would draw attention, however, to the concluding words of Channell J. In Reg. v. Ollis, to which reference has already been made, where he expresses his clear opinion ‘that, if the evidence was otherwise admissible, it is not the less so by reason of the former acquittal.’ Hence it may well happen that evidence relating to the charge giving rise to the acquittal will be called on the subsequent charge, but if it is so called it will be called because it has relevance to the subsequent charge quite independently of any question whether the defendant was guilty or innocent on the first charge.’


Salmon LJ, Widgery J


[1967] 1 QB 432, [1967] 1 All ER 271


DistinguishedRegina v Ollis CCCR 1900
The defendant had obtained a sum of money by giving a worthless cheque. He was indicted for having obtained the money by false pretences. His defence was that when he gave the cheque he expected a payment into his bank account in time to meet the . .

Cited by:

CitedRegina v Z (Prior acquittal) HL 22-Jun-2000
The defendant on a charge of rape had been tried and acquitted of the rape of different women on three previous occasions in three separate trials. The prosecution wished to call those three complainants to give similar fact evidence in support of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Evidence

Updated: 01 May 2022; Ref: scu.237472