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Credibility and Reliability: What Does it Mean?

R. v. H.A., 2021 ONSC 6916, is a recent case by Justice Bell that goes into the issues of credibility and reliability. In any trial, whether criminal or a civil matter, credibility and reliability occupy a central part of the trial stage. It is therefore important to understand the meaning of these terms and how they affect litigants at Trial. The outcome of this case turns on issues of credibility and reliability. Credibility has to do with the truthfulness of the witness. Reliability has to do with the ability of a witness to observe, recall, and recount events that are in issue: R. v. C.(H.), 2009 ONCA 56, at para. 41. The assessment of the evidence of a witness is not an all or nothing proposition. A judge is entitled to accept some, all or none of a witness’ evidence: R. v. Leblanc, [2018] O.J. 5779 (Ont. S.C.J.). The Judge's assessment of the credibility and reliability of each witness takes into account that many individuals called upon to give evidence at a criminal trial are not familiar with the process, may never have experienced a courtroom setting, and are required to rely upon their memory of events that transpired years earlier. Each witness testifying is unique. The Judge has to assess a particular witness’ credibility and evidence using criteria appropriate to that witness’ mental development, understanding, and ability to communicate: R. v. W.(R.), 1992 CanLII 56 (SCC), [1992] 2 S.C.R. 122, at para. 26.

Commenting on the issue of consistency, the Judge noted: I am mindful of inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimony of any witness. Consistency is an element of truthful testimony; however, perfection in a witness’ testimony is not expected. Significant inconsistencies or contradictions can, however, in some circumstances, result in a witness’ testimony being rejected in whole or in part. An inconsistency that relates to a peripheral issue may not have a significant impact on the witness’ credibility. If, however, a witness’ account contains many inconsistencies on peripheral issues, this could undermine the overall reliability of their evidence. Testimony that is internally contradictory, incoherent, or implausible may lead to a finding that a witness is not worthy of belief on specific topics or more generally." Analysis: It is important to understand the meanings of credibility and reliability in preparing a witness for trial. This is a part of the trial preparation stage between the lawyer and the witness. Witness preparation takes time, analysis, research and thorough knowledge of the case and application of the facts of the case. If we apply the test laid out above, this means that at the trial preparation stage, the lawyer would have to go through each and every single sentence and submission the witness is going to state on the stand. The lawyer and the witness have to analyze and understand how each statement of the witness would potentially affect a decision based on how truthful or how reliable that statement is. That in-turn leads to proper informed consent on the part of the witness and being able to anticipate how a decision could be made in that case, whether criminal or a civil matter. At Shankar Law, we work hard to ensure that the client is fully prepared for a trial. We spend the time, do the analysis and the research to prepare each client to feel comfortable and confident for a trial. We look forward to working with you anywhere in Ontario. We have three offices based in Owen sound, Port Elgin and Wiarton.


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