Section 86 - Spouse or civil partner of accused a compellable witness
413.This section makes provision for the spouse or civil partner of an accused to be a competent and compellable witness. This section amends section 264 of the 1995 Act and repeals section 130 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The common law provisions regarding the spouse as a witness will also be overturned.
414.This section provides that the spouse or civil partner of an accused is a competent and compellable witness for the prosecution, accused or co-accused in the proceedings against the accused. Currently the law provides that a spouse is a competent witness in all circumstances. However, s/he is a compellable witness for the prosecution or a co-accused only where s/he is compellable at common law. In respect of the common law, a spouse is only compellable where the accused is charged with an offence against him or her. The operation of the common law rule is not restricted to offences of personal injury, but extends to false accusation and to offences against property, including theft and even the forgery of the spouse’s signature on a cheque.
415.It does not extend to damage to property of which the spouse is only a tenant, unless perhaps if s/he is liable to pay for the repair of the damage. If a spouse of an accused is the victim of the crime with which the accused is charged then their marital status is of no consequence. A spouse and an unmarried partner would be a compellable witness for the prosecution in such a case.
416.It is only where the spouse is not the victim that s/he can decline to give evidence for the prosecution. If the spouse of an accused is called as a Crown witness, in circumstances in which s/he is not compellable against her husband or wife, s/he has the option of declining to give evidence. But if s/he elects to give evidence against the accused, s/he cannot decline to answer questions which incriminate the spouse. An unmarried partner cannot decline to give evidence in any circumstances.
417.By the 2004 Act, a civil partner is not a compellable witness for the prosecutor or a co-accused. Persons in a registered civil partnership are, accordingly, never compellable against each other.
418.This provision of the Act will provide that the spouse and civil partner of an accused will be competent and compellable witnesses for the prosecution, accused or co-accused in any proceedings against the accused. In effect they will be treated no differently to any other witness. It will also take away the common law right of an accused’s spouse to refuse to give evidence of matrimonial communings.