Tag Archives: exclusion

How does a court decide on the admissibility of confessions?

The 2015 documentary series Making a Murderer follows the story of two men from Wisconsin who were convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman.

admissibility of confessionsOne of the convicted was an impressionable teenager called Brendan Dassey.  Dassey’s conviction was overturned in 2016 (and confirmed on appeal in 2017) on the basis that his ‘confession’ to the murder was coerced by police officers who exploited his vulnerable character.

What is the law in the England and Wales?

Provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allow courts to reject confessions of this kind on the basis that they were obtained ‘oppressively’ or are unreliable.

The relevant statutory provisions relating to the admissibility of confessions are ss. 76(2)(a) and (b) and 77 of the Act.

What does “oppressive” mean?

admissibility of confessionsThe term ‘oppressive’ has caused problems for the courts. It seems to be agreed that oppression implies some “impropriety” which compromises the confession’s veracity (Fulling [1987] QB 426).

Uncertainty exists, however, as the same sort of behaviour in different cases has led to the confession being excluded in one but not the other (see Paris (1993) 97 Cr App R 99; L [1994] Crim LR 839).

What about unreliability?

Aside from oppression, confessions may be excluded on the basis of unreliability. This unreliability may come about via “anything said or done” or something problematic concerning the circumstances in which the ‘confession’ was made.

An important point to note is that the suspect’s own conduct cannot undermine a confession (Goldenberg (1988) 88 Cr App R 285).

Another important reason to exclude a confession on the basis of unreliability is where the suspect is mentally unfit. A separate section of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, section 77,  deals with this.  In particular, the act seeks to protect suspects who may be suggestible and may simply go along with police officers’ leading questions about an alleged offence.

Deciding on the admissibility of confessions

admissibility of confessionsThe actual process for deciding whether a confession can be admitted is a ‘voir dire’. That is essentially a mini-trial within or alongside the main trial. Section 76(2) of PACE gives guidance on this point.

The prosecution must prove to the criminal law standard that the confession was not obtained in the way alleged by the defence, otherwise it will be excluded. And, although there is some disagreement, the standard position appears to be that the defendant’s evidence at the voir dire cannot be admitted during any trial for the substantive offence (Wong Kam-ming [1980] AC 247).

How we can help advise on admissibility of confessions.

Many of the problems that can arise with confessions will be removed if you have a solicitor with you to provide advice when you are interviewed.

As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about any offence  then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we will be able to advise you about the admissibility of any confession you are said to have made at any stage where you dispute the accuracy or reliability of it.  Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

 You can find your nearest office here.

admissibility of confessions
VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

Alternatively you can use the contact form below:


Application to exclude evidence before Nottingham Youth Court

application to exclude evidence obtained unfairly
Nottingham criminal defence solicitor Nick Walsh

Nottingham criminal defence solicitor Nick Walsh recently represented at a Nottingham youth court trial.  The identification evidence was disputed and Nick made an application to exclude evidence from a police officer.

Nick’s client was fourteen year old charged with theft of a motorbike from a domestic garage.  A police officer purported to identify Nick’s client from  The evidence was that he had been identified from CCTV footage by a police officer who our client very well.

Identification evidence from CCTV footage

application to exclude evidence infairly obtainedAn identification in such circumstances is governed by the Codes of Practice set out under Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.  As a result, following the not guilty plea being entered, Nick wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service asking that they disclose the contemporaneous notes of the CCTV viewing and the additional records required by Code D of the Codes of Practice.

The prosecution did not supply any of the documentation that had been requested.  The officer did, however, give a further statement dealing with the circumstances of the identification.

Expert cross examination of a police witness

At trial Nick had the opportunity of asking the officer questions about the circumstances of the identification.  His careful cross examination led the  officer to concede that he had not kept any records or notes of his viewing of the CCTV.  Additionally he could application to exclude unfairly obtained evidencenot be sure how many times he had viewed the footage.  More damagingly he confirmed that he had been given that task of viewing the CCTV by his sergeant and had been told that Nick’s client was already suspected of the crime.

The officer stated that he had based his identification on the way the suspect walked.  Having been made to view the footage again in court he had to accept that there was nothing distinguishing about the walk.

He also accepted that he had made his mind up that it was Nick’s client before he got a look at the offenders face.  Finally, he had to accept that the quality of the CCTV footage was poor.

Application to exclude evidence obtained unfairly

At the close of the prosecution case Nick applied to the Youth Court Magistrates’ to exclude the identification evidence.  This application was made under section 78 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.  This is on the basis of the breaches of the Codes of Practice.  In this case, where the identification evidence was the only evidence in the case, it would be unfair to admit it.

The Magistrates agreed and the evidence was excluded.  As a result, the prosecution had no option but to offer no further evidence and Nick’s client was found not guilty.

Client had the benefit of free criminal legal aid

Owing to our client’s age Nick’s representation of him was free of charge to both him and his parents under the criminal legal aid scheme

Contact an expert criminal defence lawyer

This case illustrates the importance of knowing the law that governs identification evidence.  It also shows that you need a criminal solicitor on your side who can make sure that a police office is made to answer the difficult questions.  This might open the door to an application to exclude evidence.

application to exclude evidence nottingham solicitor
VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

Nick can be contacted on 0115 9599550.  Alternatively contact one of our other criminal defence solicitors at our offices across the East Midlands.  A contact form is below too.


Education Law Advice – Coming Soon

education law clare roberts
Clare Roberts

We have been fortunate enough to be able to recruit Clare Roberts, education law specialist and criminal duty solicitor to join us in the Spring.

She will be in post in time to provide advice to those parents who will have been disappointed by decisions made for primary school admissions.  These will be announced in April.

A Complex Area of Law

Clare recognises that issues surrounding education will be very important to those affected.  She will be able to provide our clients with expert legal advice upon the complex rules, regulations and laws that relate to these matters.

Help will be available in the following areas:

  • Special educational needs (SEN)
  • admission appeals
  • exclusion appeals
  • discrimination claims
  • problems arising at university such as plagiarism or misconduct
  • judicial review

Although the intention is that she will provide advice and representation for clients served by our six offices across the East Midlands, she has travelled further afield in the past to provide specialist advice that can be hard to find.

Fixed Fees will be Published

Over the coming weeks we will be devising and publishing fixed fees for certain types of work that will allow our clients to decide upon the level of service and assistance that they would wish and budget accordingly.