LETTER: No alibi? No comment

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The Independent Online
NICK COHEN states that the ancient right to silence, which he says has served as a protection from police beatings, has been abolished ("Another step to the prison state", 31 March). It has not. Suspects can still answer "no comment" in police interviews.

Mr Cohen is referring to the changes brought about by the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. These provide for a warning to be given during an interview if a suspect fails to account for any objects, marks or substances, or marks upon an object found in his possession at the time or place of arrest. It may be given if the suspect fails to account for his presence at or near the scene of an alleged crime. The warning informs him that a court may draw an inference from his refusal to account for these facts; it is then left up to the court.

The changes were designed to counter the "Ambush Defence" which involved a suspect refusing to answer questions when interviewed and then waiting for his solicitor to receive details of the prosecution case before drawing up an alibi to fit the evidence.

It is an accepted fact that the majority of criminal offences in this country go undetected and that even with good evidence, a conviction is difficult to achieve. All this legislation does is to close one of the legal loopholes open to the criminal.

It is easy to paint a picture of a Britain where civil liberties are being eroded but it serves no purpose. The fact is that we live in one of the most liberal countries in the world but ordinary citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about growing crime.

Although we need to tackle the causes of crime such as unemployment, poverty and social deprivation, we need to have a deterrent. As it becomes apparent that a problem exists in the criminal law then the law will need to be updated. We must get things into proportion and realise that this does not necessarily mean that we are about to become a police state.

Andrew Coller

Dereham, Norfolk