Chapter 9
Conviction evidence

Introduction and background

9.1 At common law, the rule in Hollington v Hewthorn excluded evidence of conviction in later civil proceedings.590 New Zealand subsequently abolished the rule so that, in defamation proceedings, a previous conviction is “sufficient evidence” that an offence has been committed; and in other civil proceedings, a previous conviction was “admissible as evidence” that an offence has been committed.591
9.2The Law Commission proposed in its Evidence Code to strengthen the position in relation to defamation actions so that a conviction is “conclusive proof of guilt” that an offence was committed. The Law Commission also proposed that convictions should be admissible in criminal proceedings as:592
  • it would save time and expense as it would prevent a party from re-litigating a matter that has already been resolved;
  • it makes relevant and highly probative evidence available to the court; and
  • it is consistent with the policy of the criminal justice system that a criminal conviction is sufficient basis to impose grave penalties.
9.3The Law Commission also proposed that civil judgments or findings of fact should be inadmissible to prove the existence of the fact.593
590Hollington v Hewthorn [1943] KB 587.
591Law Commission Evidence: Volume 1 – Reform of the Law (NZLC R55, 1999) at 62.
592At 65–66.
593At 68.