About the right to silence in the UK

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About the right to silence in the UK
In the UK, every person has the right not to incriminate themselves when questioned by the police. (Doug Menuez/Valueline/Getty Images)

The basic right of any person being questioned or charged by the police to remain silent is thought to have originated in the UK, and remains an important part of the criminal justice system. In Britain, people being questioned by the police are warned that their defence at any future court hearing may be harmed if they use their right to silence during their dealings with the police.

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There are a number of views on the origins of the right to silence for suspects in a criminal investigation or those being questioned by members of the police force, Criminalcle reports. The majority of experts believe that the right to silence grew in Britain during the 17th century with reforms made to the criminal justice system; others believe the right to silence grew slowly and reached its peak in the 19th century with changes in the British criminal law that changed the presumption of guilt to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Prior to reforms in the 18th and 19th centuries the British legal system did not allow legal representation for those suspected of a crime meaning they had to represent themselves and could not remain silent throughout a trial.


Regarded as a basic human right around the world, the right to silence is read to all people being questioned, charged or informed of their possible future arrest for a criminal offence in the UK, according to Student Handouts. This right basically informs a suspect in a crime that they do not need to say anything to the police that may harm any possible defense in a future trial. Any criminal trial conducted against a defendant who chooses to remain silent throughout their questioning cannot be conducted solely on the presumption of guilt based on the silence of the suspect during questioning.


The introduction of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act brought sweeping changes to the right to silence in England and Wales; Scotland operates under its own legal system and was not reformed by this act. These changes placed a sense of doubt that could be inferred to a court during a trial if a suspect failed to answer questions, make a statement or mention important facts when questioned or arrested by the police.


The UK right to silence is detailed to all people being questioned or arrested by police in one of two forms. Those who have already been awarded the opportunity to discuss their arrest or questioning with a lawyer are read the long form of their rights; during the reading of rights in the long form the nature of the offence is also detailed for the suspect. Those who are informed of their rights without consulting a lawyer first are read a short form of the right to silence, explaining that their defence may be harmed if they do not state important facts as soon as possible.

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