Cleared defendants `made to pay for staying silent

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The Independent Online
DEFENDANTS WHO are proved innocent, but have exercised their legal right to silence at the police station, are being financially punished by the courts, solicitors have warned.

In a case at Aylesbury Crown Court, a judge ordered a man to pay pounds 1,000 legal costs after his lawyer had advised him not to answer police questions. The man was acquitted of handling stolen computers because the prosecution had no evidence against him.

But his lawyer, Sonia Sims, said Judge Rodwell, who heard the case, ordered the defendant to contribute to his legal costs because he chose not to answer questions about the charge.

Judges are allowed to order costs against innocent defendants if their behaviour either encouraged the police to arrest them or brought about the prosecution.

Colin Reynolds, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, said the ruling left a "lingering impression of guilt" after a defendant had been acquitted.

Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a jury is allowed to "draw an adverse inference" when a defendant refuses to give evidence in his own defence. But that law "does not give the judge the power to impose a financial penalty", said Ms Sims. The case means defendants who have to pay for their own solicitors or make a financial contribution to legal aid can be financially punished for choosing to remain silent even if they are acquitted at any stage.

Ms Sims said: "This decision could have considerable implications for defence solicitors, who may wish to put clients on notice that their silence could be penalised when it came to orders for costs."

In another case a judge ordered a man to pay his own costs after he remained silent when charged with domestic violence. The Solicitors' Association is looking for a suitable case to take to judicial review.