Regina v Stinchcombe: 1991

(Supreme Court of Canada) The Crown had decided not to call a witness who was considered unworthy of credit by Crown counsel. The witness could have given evidence directly relevant to the issues arising at the trial. The Crown also refused to disclose the statements of the witness to the defence.
Held: Crown counsel misconceived his obligation to disclose the statements. Crown counsel had refused disclosure because in his view, the witness was not worthy of credit. This was not an adequate explanation. The trial judge ought to have examined the statements and erred in holding that the Crown counsel was not under an obligation to make disclosure of the statements. The failure of the Crown to make disclosure impaired the right of the accused to make full answer and defence. It must be assumed that non-production of statements was an important factor in the decision of the defence not to call the witness. The absence of this evidence might very well have affected the outcome. Accordingly, the appeal must be allowed and a new trial ordered at which the statements should be produced.
Stopinka J said: ‘I would add that the fruits of the investigation which are in the possession of counsel for the Crown are not the property of the Crown for use in securing a conviction but the property of the public to be used to ensure that justice is done.’ and ‘Refusal to disclose is also justified on the ground that the material will be used to enable the defence to tailor its evidence to conform with information in the Crown’s possession. For example, a witness may change his or her testimony to conform with a previous statement given to the police or counsel for the Crown. I am not impressed with this submission. All forms of discovery are subject to this criticism. There is surely nothing wrong in a witness refreshing his or her memory from a previous statement or document. The witness may even change his or her evidence as a result. This may rob the cross-examiner of a substantial advantage but fairness to the witness may require that a trap not be laid by allowing the witness to testify without the benefit of seeing contradictory writings which the prosecutor holds close to the vest. The principle has been accepted that the search for truth is advanced rather than retarded by disclosure of all relevant material.’


Sopinka J


(1991) 68 CCC (3d) 1

Cited by:

CitedRegina v Mills, Regina v Poole HL 24-Jul-1997
The prosecution have a duty to disclose to the defence the statement of an adverse witness and not just to provide the name and address, even though that person was not seen as credible witness by the prosecution. ‘the rule in Bryant and Dickson is . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Commonwealth, Criminal Practice

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.231070