Pleading the Fifth: new book analyses restrictions on the ‘right of silence’


An academic from The University of Manchester’s School of Law has published the first comprehensive analysis of the effects of the curbing of the right of silence in 1994’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in England and Wales.

Almost every new legal system includes the right of silence, from the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1791, to post-apartheid South Africa and the International Criminal Court. It had become an essential part of a fair trial system until plans to curtail the right of silence in England and Wales were announced as part of Michael Howard’s notorious ‘prison works’ speech in 1993.

This ignored lessons from the recently overturned miscarriages of justice including the Birmingham Six, and marked the start of a controversial attempt to ‘rebalance the criminal justice system’ that Dr Hannah Quirk argues has undermined safeguards such as legal advice and made trials less fair.

Dr Quirk has written ‘The Rise and Fall of the Right of Silence’ to examine the implications of curtailing the right of silence in England and Wales. She draws upon historical research, legal analysis and interviews with 100 criminal justice practitioners to examine the practical effects of the changes.

“The right of silence is an important part of almost every new legal system that is designed”, says Dr Quirk. “It reinforces the principle that we are all entitled to be presumed innocent until the prosecution can prove our guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

The politically driven decision to curtail the right of silence in 1994 has damaged the fabric of our criminal justice system, and has had destabilising consequences across the world as other countries have been influenced by the decision taken here.
Dr Hannah Quirk

The foreword to the book is written by Shami Chakrabarti, the campaigner and former Director of Liberty who became an Honorary Professor of Law at The University of Manchester in 2014. “Hannah Quirk is a rare thing - a legal scholar who can tell a story and do so from a legal, political, practical, historical, domestic and international perspective capable of exciting a variety of disciplines across the academy and beyond,” said Shami.

Dr Quirk’s book is for sale here:

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