Admissibility of Confessions: Recent Developments

Published date01 August 1991
Date01 August 1991
Subject MatterArticle
Richard May*
The purpose of this article is to consider (from the point of
view of the court faced with an issue of admissibility) recent
developments in the law. The article deals in particular with
practical problems including the interplay between ss 76 and 78 of
the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the effect of
breaches of the Act and Code of Practice.
Before discussing these developments it may be helpful to consider
the reasons for rules relating to the admissibility of confessions.
Confessional evidence presents the courts with a unique set of
problems. On one hand a confession is of powerful probative
value: none better as proof of crime. On the
hand this very
probative value may tempt those charged with investigating crime
into fabrication or the use of improper methods in obtaining
admissions. Therefore rules must be devised in order to ensure
that evidence of a confession is only admittedif (a) it is accurate and
reliable; and (b) the confession was not obtained by mistreatmentof
the suspect. Thus the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure,
having concluded that there was no adequate substitute for police
questioning, considered how best to safeguard the rights of the
suspect and to secure the reliability and accuracy of statements
(Report, 1981, Cmnd 8092, para 4.1). Parliament sought to achieve
these objectives in the 1984Act by (1) requiring the exclusion of
confessions obtained by oppression or likely to be unreliable; and
(2) permitting the exclusion of confessions obtained unfairly.
• A Circuit Judge on the Midland and Oxford Circuit.

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