Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, conceded yesterday that the much-criticised new draft police caution can be cut from 60 words to 37 without changing the meaning. The new caution is needed so that suspects arrested after 10 April are aware that they have lost the right to remain silent without prejudicing their case.
Until now police officers arresting suspects have warned them: "You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so, but what you say may be given in evidence."
The first suggested new form of words was: "You do not have to say anything. But if you do not mention now something which you later use in your defence, the court may decide that your failure to mention it now strengthens the case against you. A record will be made of anything you say and it may be given in evidence if you are brought to trial."
Yesterday's version, laid before Parliament as part of changes under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, reduces this to: "You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence."
Mr Howard's original attempt to express the new law was criticised by the Law Society and Justice, while the Criminal Bar Association called it "confusing and complete nonsense". A study by a forensic psychologist, Gisli Gudjonsson, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, found 42 per cent of A-level students could not understand it.
The latest version has the approval of judges and the police, but the Law Society said yesterday that it would still confuse suspects by telling them they did not have to speak and then that they might incriminate themselves if they stayed silent. It would lead to far more legal arguments in court.
Mr Howard said: "The new caution . . . is easier for the police to remember and for suspects to understand. It is designed to ensure that people questioned by the police understand the possible consequences if they answer questions or stay silent."
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