Sattin v National Union Bank Ltd: CA 21 Feb 1978

The plaintiff sought damages from the loss of a diamond deposited with the defendant bank as security. He asked to present evidence about the experience of another customer who had lost jewellery he had deposited with it.
Held: The proposed evidence was admissible. (Lawton LJ) If a defendant in this class of case said ‘My system for safeguarding customers’ property is a reasonably safe one’ it is relevant for the plaintiff to call evidence to show that experience should have taught the defendant that it was not a safe system. The evidence was also admissible in order to rebut the suggestion that the bank was unfortunate in losing the customer’s property albeit they used all reasonable care to safeguard it. ‘A fundamental principle of the law of evidence, both in civil and criminal cases, is that evidence must be confined to what is relevant. In general, if there is an issue whether A did a particular act on a particular day, then the fact that he may have done the same act on another day is not relevant to that issue. To that fundamental rule there are a number of exceptions.’ and ‘That principle of law [from Makin] in criminal cases applies equally in civil cases.’ (Megaw LJ) ‘There was a good deal of argument before us by counsel on each side: counsel for the plaintiff appellant seeking to show the similarities between matters arising in the present case and matters involved in the previous incident as to which it is sought to adduce evidence; counsel for the defendant respondent seeking to stress the differences between the two.
It is no objection to such evidence being tendered that it relates to one previous incident only. It does not need to be a defective ‘system’. It is no objection to the evidence being tendered that it is going to be contended on behalf of the defendant employer that the previous alleged incident did not happen at all, or that, if it did happen, there were material differences which would prevent it from having any substantial bearing upon the instant case: as, for example, where the claim by the employee is that he tripped over some piece of plant or some object left on the floor which ought not to have been there and evidence is given of another similar accident on a previous occasion, it would be no objection to the admissibility of the evidence if the case for the employer defendant was to be that, on the occasion of the previous incident, if (which he denies) it happened at all, there had been a sudden failure of the lighting system through no fault on the part of the employer. That would not affect the admissibility of the evidence though it might destroy all its weight.’
Lawton LJ
(1978) 122 SJ 367
England and Wales

  • Cited – Makin v Attorney-General for New South Wales PC 12-Dec-1893
    The accused had been charged with the murder of an infant who had been given into their care by the child’s mother after payment of a fee. They appealed after admission of evidence that several other infants had been received by the accused persons . .
    [1894] AC 57, [1893] UKPC 56

Cited by:

  • Cited – Berger v Raymond Sun Ltd 1984
    The court distinguished the test of the admissibility of evidence of similar facts from the criteria according to which the court should exercise its discretion to exclude such evidence. He said that the test of admissibility was the same in civil . .
    [1984] 1 WLR 625
  • Cited – O’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 . .
    [2003] EWCA Civ 1085, Times 22-Aug-03, Gazette 02-Oct-03
  • Cited – O’Brien v Chief Constable of South Wales Police HL 28-Apr-2005
    The claimant sought damages against the police, and wanted to bring in evidence of previous misconduct by the officers on a similar fact basis. They had been imprisoned and held for several years based upon admissions which they said they had . .
    [2005] UKHL 26, Times 29-Apr-05, [2005] 2 WLR 1038, [2005] 2 All ER 931, [2005] 2 AC 534

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 02 December 2020; Ref: scu.186046