Excluding Police Station Confessions: High Court Decision

14th February 2014 Business Crime

 Appeal of Anita Maureen Beeres (Appellant)

and

Crown Prosecution Service West Midlands (Respondent)

 

Confessions at the police station.

 

Background

This case concerns the circumstances when a confession obtained at a police station should be excluded pursuant to sections 76 and/or 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ("PACE 1984) and Code C thereof which concerns the detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers. In particular it concerns the requirement to advise a detainee of their right to legal advice, and of the approach officers should take when interviewing a person who might be sleep deprived and/or drunk. The point has particular resonance on the facts of this case because the decisive evidence relied upon by the prosecution at trial to advance its case was the confession in issue; if it should have been ruled to be inadmissible the prosecution would have foundered. The sole evidence proposed by the Crown to be put before the Magistrates Court concerned (i) a confession that the Appellant made when interviewed under caution, and (ii) evidence relating to an alleged admission made when she was arrested.

The gist of the Appellant's case is that when she was interviewed at the police station she was not given proper advice as to the availability of a "duty solicitor; and that, in any event, the fact of her interview whilst drunk and/or sleep deprived made her confession in the course of the interview unreliable and its admission into evidence unfair. It was argued before the District Judge that by virtue of these facts and matters evidence of her admissions ought to be excluded pursuant to sections 76 and/or 78 PACE 1984. The Appellant therefore applied at an early stage in the trial to exclude both (a) the alleged admissions made to police officers at the scene of the incident prior to arrest and (b) the confession made in interview.

The judge heard evidence during a voir dire and he excluded the evidence from the arresting officer of the alleged admission to the assault made at the scene. However, he rejected the application to exclude the confession evidence in interview pursuant to sections 76 and/or 78 PACE 1984.

The Appellant was subsequently convicted but applied to the Judge to state a case to the High Court testing the correctness of his decision to admit the confession evidence. The Judge acceded to this application.

The High Court considered the grounds, the stated case, set out the law and Mr Justice Green made the following comments:-

Access to Legal Advice

"The long and short of the present case is that the Appellant voluntarily chose to be interviewed without receiving advice and without the assistance of a solicitor during her interview. But critically, she was given clear and repeated offers of advice both in the form of a face to face consultation and in the form of access to telephone advice. I am bound to conclude that the Judge was plainly correct to find "that the Appellant was in a position to properly exercise an informed choice about her entitlement. There was no basis upon which the confession can remotely be said to be attributable to any failing by the officers to proffer advice as to the availability of legal advice. There is no possibility that any unfairness arose which would have justified the Judge excluding the confession under section 78.

Sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption

"For the purpose of this appeal I must take as my starting point the Judge's contrary findings and his assessment of the propriety of the way in which the police assessed the Appellant's fitness to be interviewed, which he drew from all of the evidence before him, which are summarised at paragraph [36] above. These findings record that there was simply no evidence that the Appellant was in any way drunk or affected by alcohol when she was interviewed and that the officer's assessment was a proper one. And since nothing in the Appellant's grounds casts doubt upon these I am bound to accept them. Having accepted them I also find that upon the basis of these findings there was no breach of Annex G of Code C. In essence the Judge formed a proper conclusion about the officer's assessment of the Appellant's sobriety in relation to the interview.

"The officers assessed the Appellant as perfectly able to answer questions. The Judge, following the voir dire, came to the same conclusion and has explained the factors which led him to that conclusion as set out in paragraphs [6] and [37] above which apply to the appellant's overall state. There is, accordingly, no error of law or assessment evident in the Judge's assessment in the present case.

Conclusions

The appeal was dismissed for the following reasons:-

i) The Judge was correct to reject the submission that the Appellant had not properly or adequately been informed of her right to legal advice.

Judgment Approved by the court for handing down. Beeres v CPS West Midlands

Page 18

ii) The Judge was correct to find that the officers were entitled to come to the conclusion that Appellant was in all respects fit to be interviewed.

iii) The Judge was correct to find that accordingly the confession evidence of the Appellant was in all respects both reliable and fair and that neither section 76 nor section 78 PACE 1984 applied to exclude the confession.

Click HERE for the full judgement 13th February 2014

Evan Wright is a partner in JMW's Business Crime and Regulation department
(0161) 828 8315
07850 207 306
evan.wright@jmw.co.uk

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Evan Wright is a Partner located in Manchester in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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