REVISED 7 JANUARY 2009
4.8 DEFENDANT'S CHARACTER – GOOD(1)
"You have heard that the defendant is a man/young man of good character [not just in the sense that he has no convictions recorded against him, but witnesses have spoken of his positive qualities.] Of course, good character cannot by itself provide a defence to a criminal charge; but when deciding whether the prosecution has proved the charge(s) against him beyond reasonable doubt you should take it into account in his favour in the following way/s:"(2)
(If a defendant does not give evidence and he has not made any statement to the police, or other authority or person which is admitted in evidence, ignore (A) below)
(If a defendant has given evidence). "In the first place, the defendant has given evidence, and as with any man of good character it supports his credibility. This means that it is a factor which you should take into account when deciding whether you believe his evidence."
(If a defendant has not given evidence, but has e.g. made a statement to the police, or has answered questions in interview (3)). "In the first place, although the defendant has chosen not to give evidence before you, he did, as you know give (an explanation to the police). In considering (that explanation) and what weight you should attach to it you should bear in mind that it was made by a person of good character, and take that into account when deciding whether you can believe it."
"In the second place, the fact that he is of good character may mean that he is less likely than otherwise might be the case to commit this crime now."
"I have said that these are matters to which you should have regard in the defendant's favour. It is for you to decide what weight you should give to them in this case. In doing this you are entitled to take into account everything you have heard about the defendant, including his age, (...) and (...)." (Obviously the importance of good character will vary from case to case, and becomes stronger if the defendant is a person of unblemished character of mature years, or has a positively good character. At this stage it may be appropriate to point out to the jury the benefit of this to a defendant, with words such as:) "Having regard to what you know about this defendant you may think that he is entitled to ask you to give (considerable) weight to his good character when deciding whether the prosecution has proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt."(4)
- "Although the defendant has no previous convictions and might therefore be thought to be a person of good character for the reasons I have just explained, the defendant has admitted that he has (you have heard that the defendant) has been guilty of serious criminal behaviour similar to the offence(s) with which he is now charged. You must not assume that the defendant is guilty of the offences with which he is now charged because he has admitted (you have heard that) he has been guilty of that serious criminal behaviour. That serious criminal behaviour is not relevant at all to the likelihood of his having committed the offences with which he is now charged, it is relevant only as to whether you can believe him. It is for you to decide the extent to which, if at all, his serious criminal behaviour helps you about that."(5)
(1) The primary rule is that a person of previous good character must be given a full direction covering both credibility and propensity. Where there are no further facts to complicate the position, such a direction is mandatory and should be unqualified. R v Gray  2 Cr. App. R. at 515  where the principles governing when, and in what terms, a good character direction should be given are restated.
(2) Wherever there is any doubt as to whether both limbs of the character direction apply, or wherever it is thought that it may be necessary in the particular circumstances to modify a ‘character direction’, it is desirable to discuss the matter with counsel before their closing speeches. See R v Durbin  2 Cr. App. R. 84 where guidelines were laid down for a number of situations in which a modified direction should be given.
(3) The defendant is entitled to such a direction only where the out of court statement is a mixed’ statement, that is it contains an admission of fact which is capable of adding some degree of weight to the prosecution case on an issue which is relevant to guilt. R v Aziz  2 Cr. App. R .478, R v Garrod 1997] Crim. L. R. 445.
(4) R v Vye, Wyse and Stephenson 97 Cr.App.R.134.
(5) If the defendant has admitted or such serious criminal behaviour has been proved, the judge may qualify or, if he considers that it would be an insult to commonsense to give direction in accordance with R v Vye, omit completely such directions. Lord Steyn in R v Aziz. If a Vye direction is to be qualified, the above adaptation of the bad character direction may be appropriate. When bad character evidence has been admitted it is no longer appropriate to give a good character direction.
ARCHBOLD 2010: 4-406 to 409.
BLACKSTONE 2010: F13.3 to 14.