Stirland v DPP

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Chancellor,Lord Thankerton,Lord Wright,Lord Porter
Judgment Date21 June 1944
Judgment citation (vLex)[1944] UKHL J0621-3
Date21 June 1944
CourtHouse of Lords
Director of Public Prosecutions (on Behalf of His Majesty)
(Criminal Appeal).

[1944] UKHL J0621-3

Lord Chancellor

Lord Thankerton

Lord Russell of Killowen

Lord Wright

Lord Porter

House of Lords

After hearing Counsel for the Appellant, on Monday the 20th of December last, upon the Petition and Appeal of William Stirland, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the First Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of His Majesty's Court of Criminal Appeal, of the 29th of November 1943, might be reviewed before His Majesty the King, in His Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, varied, or altered or that the Petitioner might have such other relief in the premises as to His Majesty the King, in His Court of Parliament, might seem meet; and Counsel having been heard on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (on behalf of His Majesty), the Respondent in the said Appeal; and due consideration being had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of His Majesty the King assembled, That the said Order of His Majesty's Court of Criminal Appeal, of the 29th day of November 1943, complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby, Affirmed, and that the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby, dismissed this House.

Lord Chancellor

My Lords,


The Appellant was convicted on October 7th, 1943, before the Common Serjeant (His Honour Judge Beazley) on six charges of forgery, and was sentenced to be kept in penal servitude for three years. He appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal (Viscount Caldecote L.C.J., Atkinson and Croom-Johnson J J.) against the conviction and sentence, but the appeal was dismissed, the judgment of the Court being delivered by Mr. Justice Atkinson. The Appellant obtained from the Attorney-General a certificate that the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal involved a point of law of exceptional public importance, and that it was in his opinion desirable in the public interest that a further appeal should be brought. Accordingly this appeal has been brought before the House. The point of law immediately involved is as to the admissibility of certain questions put in cross-examination of the accused at the trial after he had put his character in issue, but at the end of the argument the House intimated that, whether the point of law raised on the accused's behalf was well founded or not, no substantial miscarriage of justice could be regarded as having actually occurred and consequently that the conviction should stand.


Apart altogether from the impeached questions (which the Common Serjeant in his summing up advised the jury entirely to disregard), there was an overwhelming case proved against the accused. The trial had lasted two full days, but the jury took only a few minutes to consider its verdict and the Judge stated that he considered the verdict "perfectly right." When the transcript is examined it is evident that no reasonable jury, after a proper summing up, could have failed to convict the Appellant on the rest of the evidence to which no objection could be taken. There was, therefore, no miscarriage of justice, and this is the proper test to determine whether the proviso to section 4 (1) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, should be applied. The passage in Woolmington v. The Director of Public Prosecutions [1935] A.C. 462 at p. 483 where Viscount Sankey L.C. observed that in that case, if a jury had been properly directed, it could not be affirmed that they would have "inevitably" come to the same conclusion should be understood as applying this test. A perverse jury might conceivably announce a verdict of acquittal in the teeth of all the evidence; but the provision that the Court of Criminal Appeal may dismiss the appeal if they consider that no substantial miscarriage of justice has actually occurred in convicting the accused assumes a situation where a reasonable jury, after being properly directed, would, on the evidence properly admissible, without doubt convict. That assumption, as the Court of Criminal Appeal intimated, may be safely made in the present case.


The Court of Criminal Appeal has recently in R v. Haddy [1944] 1 A.E. Reports 319 correctly interpreted section 4 (1)of the Criminal Appeal Act and the observation above quoted from Woolmington's case in exactly this sense.


It remains to decide the point of law on account of which the Appeal has been brought to this House. The Appellant clearly put his character in issue in the course of the trial, and that more than once, as appears from the quotations which follow:�


( a) Mr. French, a witness for the prosecution, was asked in cross-examination and answered:�

Q. "During the time Stirland was employed by the Corporation, you had no complaint to make about him?" A. "No."

Q. "You found him a loyal and faithful servant?" A. "Yes."

Q. "You had no reason at all to suspect him. That is right, is it not?" A. "Yes."


( b) Again, a police inspector who was also called for the prosecution gave the following evidence in answer to questions from the Appellant's counsel:�

Q. "He is a man of good character?" A. "Yes; he has . not been charged before."


(c) Further, the Appellant went into the witness-box and was asked in chief "Have you ever in your life been charged with any offence whatever?" to which he answered "No."


As the result of these questions and answers, Counsel for the Prosecution felt justified in cross-examining the Appellant as follows:�

Q. "Why did you leave the Westminster Bank?" A. "For two reasons. The first reason was that I have other interests outside the bank, which the bank did not like, and they were entirely literary interests, when I came to London. The second reason was that I had the offer of an opportunity in London for going in for advertising, and therefore I resigned from the Westminster Bank and came to London."

Q. "May I suggest another reason to you? Were you questioned about a suggested forgery?" A. "No."

Q. "Did you leave after an interrogation about a particular signature?" A. "I did not."


Finally, in re-examination after explaining that he left the bank because his family expenses necessitated his earning more money than he was receiving as salary, the Appellant said "the suggestion that was made by Counsel for the Prosecution is untrue in every particular."

Q. "You say your leaving the bank had nothing whatever to do with any question of your dishonesty?" A. "No. I even had a reference from the Westminster Bank, which I told you about this morning."

Q. "The Bank gave you a reference?" A. "Yes, from the Leeds office."

Q. "After you left the bank?" A. "Yes."


It will be observed that these questions were not put in order to suggest a previous conviction or even a previous charge (if by "charge" is meant a criminal proceeding), but insinuated that the Appellant had left his previous employment under suspicion, whether well or ill-founded, of dishonesty. The Prosecutor, of course, put such questions relying on material in his brief�indeed, after conviction, a Chief Inspector of Police, when asked about the convict's history, gave information as to the circumstances in which the Appellant left the Westminster Bank which corresponded to the questions put. But this provides no answer to the problem whether such questions were legitimate at the stage when the issue of the Appellant's guilt or innocence of the crime charged was still before the jury.


Before your Lordships it was contended that this cross-examination was wholly inadmissible, as tending to suggest that the Appellant had been guilty of a crime other than that with which he was charged and as being irrelevant to the question of his guilt in respect of the crime for which he was being tried.


The right of a prisoner to give evidence on his own behalf was not conferred until 1898 and is governed by the Criminal Evidence Act of that year. The relevant portion of the first section runs thus:�

"(I) Every person charged with an offence � shall be a competent witness for the defence at every stage of the proceedings . . . Provided as follows:���

( e) A person charged and being a witness in pursuance of this Act may be asked any question in cross-examination notwithstanding that it would tend to criminate him as to the offence charged:

( f) A person charged and called as a witness in pursuance of this Act shall not be asked, and if asked shall not be required to answer, any question tending to show that he has committed or been convicted of or been charged with any offence other than that wherewith he is then charged, or is of bad character, unless�

(i) the proof that he has committed or been convicted of such other offence is admissible evidence to show that he is guilty of the offence wherewith he is then charged; or

(ii) he has personally or by his advocate asked questions of the witnesses for the prosecution with a view to establish his own good character, or has given evidence of his good character, or the nature or conduct of the defence is such as to involve imputations on the character of the prosecutor or the witnesses for the prosecution; or

(iii) he has given evidence against any other person charged with the same offence."


This House has laid it down in Maxwell v. Director of Public Prosecutions ...

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