right of silence

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The right of someone charged with an offence or being tried on a criminal charge not to make any statement or give any evidence. Often cited as a prime example of the fairness of the English criminal system, being intended to protect the innocent, it was also criticized as unduly hampering the conviction of the guilty and has therefore been modified. If a suspect fails to mention something at the time of his arrest or charge that is later relied on in his defence, this may result in a court at a subsequent trial drawing such inferences as appear proper (see caution). Sometimes, however, statute obliges him to answer, as in certain fraud investigations by the Serious Fraud Office (although this has been held contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights: Murray v UK (1996) 22 EHRR 29).

Failure of an accused aged 14 or over to give evidence in his own defence or refusal to answer questions without good cause will also allow such inferences to be drawn. Inferences may also be drawn from a suspect's failure to account for any object, mark, or substance found on his person, in his clothing or footwear, or otherwise in his possession at the time of arrest. The police officer must reasonably believe that such items are attributable to an offence and inform the suspect accordingly. Inferences may also be drawn from a suspect's failure to account for his presence at a particular place.

Subjects: Law.

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