Regina v Venn: CACD 1 Feb 2003

The defendant appealed convictions for sexual assault against four young girls.
Held: The admissibility of ‘similar fact’ evidence depends upon the degree of its relevance. If only suggests propensity it is inadmissible. If it goes further and can be shown to be relevant to, and probative of, a particular issue in the case, then it is admissible provided its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect. While the ‘similar facts’ rule remains a rule of law as to admissibility rather than a matter of discretion its now more broad-ranging and contextual nature offers judges a greater degree of latitude in assessing whether a combination of features, not striking in themselves, amount to a sufficient connection for the purposes of the rule. While the question of the admissibility of ‘similar fact’ evidence in relation to various counts joined in the indictment is always an important one to be considered and will frequently govern the outcome of an application to sever, it is not necessarily decisive. Evidence of distress is still admissible in limited circumstances, if it might reasonably be linked with earlier sexual abuse. In this case the evidence should not have been admitted, but the judges summing up had minimised it to an extent which left the conviction safe.
Discussing attempts to describe the situations in which similar fact evidence may be admissible, the court held: ‘the infinite variety of factual situations which may be involved and the fact that the prosecution may legitimately seek to rely upon ‘similar facts’ in a variety of different ‘issue’ situations. The classic examples are (1) the question of identity, in which respect the Crown Court Bench Book 1 at 20.1 and 20.2 gives two specimen directions, (2) where mistake, accident or innocent association is in issue: see Archbold 2003 at 13-16 to 13-21, (3) where the defence is based on an assertion that two or more complainants are lying or mistaken; see Archbold 13-22 to 13-26(e) and direction 20.3. In all these cases, the nature of the identifiable common feature or features which may constitute a significant connection is bound to depend upon the context and on circumstances which cannot be prescribed.’


Lord Justice Potter His Honour Judge Mellor The Honourable Mr Justice Mackay


[2003] EWCA Crim 236




England and Wales


CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v P HL 1991
The defendant faced specimen counts of rape and incest against each of his two daughters. The trial judge refused an application for separate trials in respect of the offences alleged against each daughter. The defendant was convicted.
Held: . .
CitedRegina v Williams (John) QBD 7-Oct-1994
A Police Constable’s fleeting view of a Defendant could be sufficient identification, subject to checks in court. However a Turnbull warning as to the need for corroboration may not always be necessary. The ‘striking similarity’ or ‘signature’ test . .
CitedRegina v Musquera CACD 1999
The court observed that, while the decision in DPP v P had eliminated the necessity to identify a striking similarity, it was still necessary to invoke some identifiable common feature or features constituting a significant connection and going . .
CitedRegina v Ryder CACD 16-Mar-1993
Where there is any suggestion that similar fact evidence might be affected by collusion, it may be appropriate for the judge to hold a voir dire. The rationale of similar fact evidence is that two or more people do not make up or mistakenly make . .
CitedRegina v Keast CACD 5-Nov-1997
The defendant appealed several convictions for sexual assault against his step-daughters. He said that evidence of her demeanour had been wrongly admitted.
Held: The distress of a complainant shortly after or at the time of an allegation of . .
CitedRegina v Redpath CCA 1962
Evidence as to the distress of a complainant may not carry probative weight if it is only part and parcel of the making of a complaint. However, it may properly be afforded weight if the complainant is unaware of being observed, and if the distress . .
CitedRegina v Chauhan CACD 1981
Evidence of a complainant’s distress is not admissible unless the complainant is unaware of being observed, and if the distress is exhibited at the time of, or shortly after, the offence itself, or in circumstances which appear to implicate the . .

Cited by:

CitedO’Brien v Chief Constable of the South Wales Police CA 23-Jul-2003
The claimant sought damages for malicious prosecution, and sought to adduce similar fact evidence. The defendant appealed an order admitting the evidence.
Held: Comparisons between admission of similar fact evidence in civil and criminal . .
CitedJones and Another, Regina v CACD 30-Sep-2019
The court considered the status of evidence given by a counsellor as to her consultations with the victim, and as to whether it counted as expert or opinion evidence.
Held: A counsellor’s evidence should in general be limited to the facts of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Crime, Evidence

Updated: 21 August 2022; Ref: scu.179518