Howard to compromise over right to silence

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Indy Politics
CROWN COURT clerks could be given the task of warning juries about defendants who abuse the right to silence in a move by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to overcome opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill by judges.

In spite of rising speculation, the Home Secretary has told colleagues he will not perform a U-turn. He has told ministers that he is determined not to give way on the principle in clause 28 of the Bill to stop defendants using the right to silence to escape justice.

The clause has been attacked by Opposition parties and civil liberties groups. However, he may be prepared to compromise to overcome the objections of judges.

As currently drafted, in cases where defendants have signalled that they will not offer evidence at trial, clause 28 would require judges to call upon them to do so. Refusal to go into the witness box would risk the court or the jury drawing adverse inferences.

Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the Lord Chief Justice, led protests against the proposal by senior judges, who wanted a discretionary power. Home Office sources have indicated that the requirement in the Bill could be changed, so that clerks would have the task of calling witnesses to offer evidence.

Speculation that Mr Howard was prepared to abandon clause 28 was fuelled by a U-turn on the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill in the Lords over the appointment of chairmen of new police authorities.

The Government rejected attempts by the Opposition to remove clause 28 from the Bill in the committee stage, but is preparing the ground for a tougher struggle when it goes through the House of Lords.

The Tory Bow Group last night demanded an end to the early release of criminals.