Law Reform Commission of Western Australia
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Project 31 - Competence and compellability of spouses to give evidence in criminal proceedings

Project No. 31

Commenced: 1972
Completed: 1977

At common law there was a rule that persons interested in the outcome of proceedings could not be competent witnesses. A major exception to this rule of incompetence arose where a person was charged with an offence against the person, health or liberty of their spouse. The law in Western Australia at the time of the Commission’s inquiry stated that the spouse of an accused was a competent witness for the prosecution or the defence at every stage of criminal proceedings. However, the law governing the compellability of an accused’s spouse to give evidence in criminal proceedings was not as clear.

Terms of Reference

In 1972 the Committee was asked to consider and report on the law as to the competence and compellability of husband and wife to give evidence in criminal proceedings.


The Acts Amendment (Evidence) Act 1991 (WA) implemented the Commission’s recommendations.

In Project No 92 (1999) the Commission recommended that the Evidence Act 1906 (WA) and related legislation be redrafted to conform with the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) while retaining certain advantages of the current Western Australian legislation.

Last updated: 31-Jan-2017

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