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Right to silence

Idris Francis has been one of the leading lights in the battle to preserve the right to silence. For centuries every British citizen has had the fundamental right not to be forced to accuse himself at trial, but to remain silent. This right was won by 16th and 17th century heroes such as John Lambert and John Lilburne, who defied death to win the right. It is a right that protects us from torture, and that has been sacred in criminal law for well over 300 years in Britain. Later it became part of the American Bill of Rights.

For six years Idris Francis asserted that the right to silence had been removed for driving offences, and he fought to defend this fundamental right against any infringement, no matter how small.

In the case of drivers, the government typically accuses them by virtue of their ownership of a car caught by a speed camera, insists they are guilty and demands payment of a fine. Idris argued that the Government had no factual basis for assuming he was the driver of the car and could not compel him to admit guilt by infringing on a fundamental British freedom merely because it found it convenient to do so.

He took his case to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court voted 15 to 2 against him. Idris writes,

Today is a black day for justice and freedom, not just for drivers in Britain or Europe but for free people throughout the world. By their perverse judgement today, the judges of the ECHR have sent a crude messages to governments throughout the world – that using threats to secure confessions, and basing convictions on those confessions is acceptable.

It is not, and has not been in Britain for more than 400 years, and that remains the case – for the moment - for every type of criminal offence other than modest driving offences. But how many more people will now be forced to confess to offences they have not committed, because the penalties for not confessing are worse than those of the offence itself? How long before totalitarian governments, encouraged by this verdict, remove the right to silence from many more offences? If they can do so for driving
offences, why not for murder, rape or terrorism?

This has been a serious blow to freedom, but make no mistake - it is only one battle lost in a war for freedom and the defeat of tyranny. Our fundamental rights have for some years been under greater threat than ever before, and the fight must go on to defeat and remove from office those who would take away our fundamental freedoms in exchange for supposed protection and security they can never deliver. Depend upon it - this fight is not over, it has only just begun.

As for the speed cameras, they will now roll on, causing far more problems than they have ever solved, while their enthusiasts chant the mantra of slaves throughout the ages, “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.” They are wrong. . .because without the right to silence we all have everything to fear.

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