English law is a legal system occurs on the territory of England and Wales. It includes civil law and criminal law. One of the subject in this area is questioning of suspects at the police station which follows every time when a person is arrested. But before the interview, a constable is under a duty to tell a suspect his or her rights which are shown in Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60). That is free legal advice, an opportunity to tell somebody where is the person, medical help when the person needs. Above all is right to remain silent during questioning. The right of silence is a legal principle which says that a questioned person does not have to answer questions asked by a police officer or somebody in court, especially when it can incriminate herself or himself. The reasons might be different, for example, a question seems to be too private or just a person does not want to worsen the situation. The history of the right of silence of suspect during questioning at the police station is not very long but quite interesting as well as controversial. Thus I would like to depicture this history in my essay.
The right of silence has been in English law since the sixteenth century. First changes have been made in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was pointed out in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in section 34. It is said that when a suspect did not mention a fact which is important for a case during an investigation it can be noted as an inference. Whereas in section 35 of the Act is about silence at a trial, in section 36 and 37 it is explained in more details what was mentioned in section 34. During a trial can be pointed out that a suspect has not answered on an important question relevant to a case, such as clothing, possession, any other object during questioning at the police station.
In addition, it is said in Code C in last version (February 2017), which is Code of Practice for the detention, treatment and questioning of persons by Police Officers, in para. 10.5 that “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.” In other words – a suspect does not have to say, he or she will not be charged, and it will not be used against him, but sometimes can be harder defencing when important information is hidden. Thus, currently is preferable to ask a lawyer for an advice when a person should tell something to make solving a case easier. Furthermore, a constant is free to ask a suspect any question. However, according to Code C para 11.6, since 2008 all the questions must be related to a particular case.
When Human Rights Act 1998 came into force there were not a lot of changes. Firstly because in European Convention on Human Rights there is not anything about the right to remain silent. However, according to article 6 of European Convention on Human Rights everybody has the right to a fair trial. In English law, it is related to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 sections 34-37. An adverse inference about not answering the question have to be drawn properly otherwise it is violations of human rights. In case Murray v United Kingdom (1996) in European Court of Human Rights it was confirmed that inferences about remaining of silent can be made and a legal advice has to occur before a questioning. A few years later, in cases Condron v United Kingdom (2001) and Beckles v United Kingdom (2003), there are shown circumstances when an adverse inference on trial can be made because a suspect remained silent during questioning at a police station, even if it was a solicitor’s advice.
Through the years, there were established a few exceptional circumstances when refusing to answer a question is an offence and can be chargeable. For example, the Companies Act 1985 requires answering all the question during investigating a company. The Criminal Justice Act 1987 section 2 says that the Director of the Serious Fraud Office can make anyone involved in fraud worth over £5 million tell everything he or she knows about this offence. Other acts which force people to answer a question is the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Drug Trafficking Act 1994.
To sum up, during last decades the right of silence was changing, was restricting. However, there are still a lot of controversial issues about this part of English law. Generally, people think that when a suspect does not want to speak it might mean that he or she is guilty. But on the other hand, a suspect is found not guilty until a judgement is delivered. As Lord Parker CJ in the Divisional Court said during interpreting the Police Act 1964 “It seems to me quite clear, though every citizen has a moral duty or, if you like, a social duty to assist the police, there is no legal duty to that effect, and, indeed, the whole basis of the common law is the right of the individual to refuse to answer questions put to him by persons in authority, and to refuse to accompany those in authority to any particular place; short, of course, of arrest.”.