Belhaven and Stenton, 1875

Belhaven and Stenton Peerage Case, 1 App Cas 279, 1875

Established precedent for combining different pieces of circumstantial evidence. This means that a jury should decide whether it accepts the evidence of a particular fact, not by considering the evidence directly relating to the fact in isolation, but in the light of all of the evidence. It is entitled to draw an inference of guilt from a combination of facts, none of which viewed alone would support that inference.

This case involved competing claims to the Scottish peerages of Belhaven and Stenton, and turned on circumstantial evidence as to the pedigree of the two claimants. Lord Cairns said (at page 279):

“My Lords, in dealing with circumstantial evidence, we have to consider the weight which is to be given to the united force of all the circumstances put together. You may have a ray of light so feeble that by itself it will do little to elucidate a dark corner. But on the other hand, you may have a number of rays, each of them insufficient, but all converging and brought to bear upon the same point, and, when united, producing a body of illumination which will clear away the darkness which you are endeavouring to dispel.”

Darroch (1987)  deals with this in detail.

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