LAWGENRL 401 - Evidence

Credit points: 20 points
Offered: First and Second Semester
Contact hours: Lectures - 4 hours per week
Course Coordinators: Scott Optican (First Semester), Carrie Leonetti (Second Semester)
Prerequisites: LAW 201, 231
Restriction: LAW 425

Course description

Evidence can be defined as the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved. The law of evidence comprises the legal rules regulating those means in a courtroom or tribunal setting. In general, there are four principal areas with which the law of evidence is concerned:

(i) The kind of evidence that will be acceptable in court;

(ii) How the trier of fact may use evidence to make findings in civil and criminal proceedings;

(iii) The manner in which evidence can be presented;

(iv) The persons who may or must give evidence - and how they may be questioned in court proceedings.

This course examines the legal rules of evidence in New Zealand relating to the four general areas outlined above and as set out in the Evidence Act 2006. The aim of the class is to give students a basic grounding in significant rules of evidence applicable to civil and/or criminal trial practice in New Zealand courts.

Content outline

The evidence course deals with a number of sub-topics grouped into seven general areas:

  • relevance and prejudice;
  • the eligibility and compellability of witnesses;
  • opinion evidence;
  • examination in chief;
  • cross-examination;
  • hearsay; and
  • privilege.

Within these general areas, the course examines various legal rules dealing with the presentation of evidence by parties in civil and criminal proceedings. Specific topics covered include: definitions of relevance; relevance v weight; the exclusion of evidence as unfairly prejudicial; the eligibility and obligation of witnesses to testify at trial; expert and non-expert opinion evidence; the rule against prior consistent statements; refreshing memory; hostile and unfavourable witnesses; the rules of cross-examination (including the rules relating to the cross- examination of complainants in sexual offence trials); the rules of privilege (lawyer-client privilege; litigation privilege; privilege for settlement negotiations and mediation; religious clergy privilege; doctor-patient privilege; the privilege against self-incrimination; the protection of confidential communications); and the hearsay rules. The focus of the course is on understanding key and selected provisions of the Evidence Act 2006 and its associated case law.


2000 word assignment (20%)

3 hour open-book exam (80%)

Open book means that you may, if you wish, bring into the exam and refer to any materials such as casebooks, textbooks and study notes.

Recommended text

A highly recommended text which contains a complete copy of the Evidence Act and its relevant rules/amendments is: Elisabeth McDonald and Scott Optican (gens eds) Mahoney
on Evidence
(Thomson Reuters, Wellington, 2018).

Recommended additional reading is:

(a) The volume on “Evidence” in Robertson (ed), Adams on Criminal Law (Thomson Reuters, looseleaf, 1992-) and the online version at Thomson Reuters Westlaw NZ OnLine.

(b) The updates on “Evidence” written by Associate Professor Scott Optican in the New Zealand Law Review. The New Zealand Law Journal and The Judgments Unlimited Express are also good, current sources of cases and articles dealing with evidence law.