Parliament and Politics: Crime Bill clause could be used in bargaining

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Indy Politics
THE Criminal Justice Bill proposal to abolish the right of silence at criminal trials passed its Commons Committee Stage yesterday amid growing suspicions that the Government will later use it as a bargaining counter to buy off opposition to another key clause, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Clause 28, obliging judges to challenge defendants invoking the right to enter the witness box, has been condemned by Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has resisted calls for its deletion. But he is now faced with opposition by the Police Federation to clause 27, allowing juries to infer guilt from a refusal to answer questions from the time of arrest.

The federation wants abolition of the right confined to refusals to answer questions during recorded interviews in police stations. A general provision could give rise to 'non-verballing' - allegations that officers ignored explanations offered by suspects because they did not make a detailed record of everything said from the moment of arrest.

Labour opponents said yesterday that clause 28 had been retained only in order to have something to give away later. Alun Michael, a home affairs spokesman and leader of the Labour MPs on the Bill's standing committee, said: 'Ministers should face the fact that clause 28 is going to have to come out. It is an outrageous proposition, contrary to basic principles, in which the judge is given an inquisitorial role.'