Amidst the tragi-comic farce occurring in Canberra last week, few noticed a fundamental attack on our rights taking place in New South Wales by an allegedly conservative government.
The right to silence, a fundamental right at the core of western liberal democracies as a vital check and balance upon the power of the government and protection of the innocence has just been abolished. That’s right, a right going back 400 years in the United Kingdom, which was enshrined in the US Bill of Rights, which is recognised in key international human rights documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: gone.
As our good friends at the IPA stated:
The right to silence is a key pillar of our legal system, developed over more than 400 years of English common law. Removing it undermines procedural fairness and creates an unjust legal system. The freedom to remain silent is a vital safeguard against state tyranny and it should never be removed.
Judges can already instruct juries to draw adverse inferences in certain cases where defendants fail to assist police investigations, so there is no justification for any erosion of the right to silence.
Fundamental legal rights must not be tampered with.
The New South Wales government should recognise their mistake and reverse what they have done.
This is just the latest attempt by Australian governments of all political stripes to remove basic legal rights, such as the right to silence, the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination
Why does this matter? Isn’t it only criminals who have something to hide? Well, no. The right to silence isn’t there to protect criminals – it’s there to protect the innocent. Whether it be protecting people being coerced into making false confessions, or having their words manipulated or misquoted, or simply against overzealous police. it is a vital protection of the rights of the innocent.
Don’t agree with me? I would STRONGLY urge everyone to take the half hour necessary to watch the below video. It’s what changed my mind on this, and, while delivered in the US, is just as relevant here today.