UN demands restoration of right to silence

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The Independent Online
In an unprecedented attack on the Government's human rights record, the United Nations has demanded that the Home Office reinstate a defendant's right to silence, which was abolished earlier this year.

Its retention as a fundamental common law protection was vital, concluded the Human Rights Committee - particularly since the United Kingdom has no Bill of Rights and does not incorporate any human rights conventions or covenants into its legislation. By ratification, the Government agrees to observe them but individuals have no legal right to invoke them.

Yesterday the UK was accused of "killing" the right-to-silence child it had created 300 years ago, thereby breaching Article 14 of the UN covenant, which guarantees the presumption of innocence and the right not to bear testimony against oneself.

"Although crime is a problem, states should seek a solution which does not trammel on elementary requirements of justice and fairness," the 18- strong committee said.

The attack came in Geneva at the conclusion of the committee's five-yearly scrutiny of the Government's record on human rights.

Urging the introduction of a Bill of Rights, it said it was "angered and disappointed" by the Government's failure to improve its human rights record in the last five years.

It was critical of Britain's treatment of asylum seekers, in particular locking them up in jails while deciding their fate; the absence of a credible system of investigating complaints against the police and, in Northern Ireland, against the military; and the failure to deal with domestic violence as a human rights issue.

Rajsmoor Lallah, the Mauritius committee member, said: "Your country decided to give mine a Bill of Rights . . . I wish you would do the same for yourselves.

Although the committee lacks powers of enforcement, its condemnation is a major embarrassment for the Government.

Andrew Puddephatt, general secretary of the campaign group Liberty, which also gave evidence to the committee, said: "The comments by the UN are a devastating blow to the British government. Every expert has condemned the lack of protection for our rights . . . The Government must change its policy or stand internationally condemned."