Why One Lie Doesn't Discredit Everything Person Says In The Family Court (8 May 2024)

Duncan Lewis & Co Solicitors


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The Lucas Direction, from R v Lucas [1981], guides judges and juries on considering lies in court. It clarifies that a lie about one matter doesn't discredit all testimony. Lies are only evidence of guilt if deliberate, material, timely, and intended to conceal guilt.
UK Family and Matrimonial
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Just because a person lies about one thing it does not automatically follow that they are lying about everything.

This may seem obvious now, but it was not always the case and has only properly informed judges and tribunal decisions in respect of fact-finding hearings since the seminal court of appeal authority in R v Lucas [1981] QB 720.

Understanding a Lucas Direction

The Lucas Direction is a legal principle used to guide the jury/judge on how to consider evidence of lies told by an individual in court.

The principle formulated in the aforementioned landmark case of R v Lucas [1981] QB 720, which found that simply because a person lies about one thing it does not discredit their entire testimony.

The Case:

The case involved Lyabode Ruth Lucas, a Nigerian national who arrived at Gatwick and Heathrow airports with significant quantities of cannabis. Lucas was later criminally convicted at Reading Crown Court for fraudulently evading the prohibition on importing controlled drugs into the UK. On appeal, the focus shifted to whether the trial judge provided proper instructions regarding the corroboration of evidence from an accomplice.

Although the case was criminal, the rationale and principle established in Lucas are broadly applicable and are similarly used in family cases. However, instead of guiding a jury as in criminal courts, it is up to the judge to guide themselves in the family courts.

The Lucas Directions instruct that a lie can only be considered as evidence of guilt if certain criteria are met. These include:

  1. The lie must be deliberate.
  2. The lie must relate to a material issue.
  3. The lie must be told after the crime (or event).
  4. The lie must be told before there is a strong suspicion of guilt.
  5. The jury/judge must be satisfied that the lie was told to conceal guilt, and even then, it is not conclusive proof of guilt but merely an additional piece of evidence to be weighed with all other evidence in the case.

Lies—whether admitted, proven, or suspected—are effectively addressed through a judge's directions. The Lucas Direction clarifies that not all lies are relevant to an individual's credibility.

There can be plausible motives for lying, such as shame, panic, or a desire to protect a third party. These factors cannot be entirely dismissed unless the listed criteria are seemingly met.

Guidance like the Lucas Direction and similar warnings help the judge (or jury) approach evidence of lies appropriately while navigating the challenging task of determining whether an individual has deliberately lied about a material issue and their motive for doing so in court. This specifically refers to evidence provided in fact-finding hearings, which are crucial in both criminal and family court cases for determining the truth of relevant allegations or facts, albeit with different burdens of proof.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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