Standards of proof for confessions to police may be lowered

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 1998, 12:00am

Judges may no longer be the only ones to determine whether a confession taken by police was voluntary under a proposal by the Law Reform Commission.

A three-month consultation on proposed changes to determining the admissibility of confessions began yesterday.

At present, a defendant's confession taken by police will not be put before the jury without the judge's consent. This is to avoid biasing the jury's decision with improper evidence.

But because the procedure requires extra time and resources, the commission has proposed three main options for reform: Granting the court discretion to direct that the question of admissibility be dealt with in the presence of the jury; Making the determination of the issue a matter for the jury in all cases; and, Granting the court discretion to direct that the question be dealt with in the presence of the jury, coupled with a lowering of the standard of proof for determining voluntariness to that of civil proceedings (on a balance of probabilities), rather than the existing criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt).

The commission secretary, Stuart Stoker, said that it had not yet reached a firm view on the proposals.

The consultation paper says the increased use of videos to record statements from the accused had led to a substantial reduction in the number of challenges being made to confession statements.

Figures provided by police for cases last year showed there were challenges to 15 per cent of video interviews put forward in High Court trials.

Where interviews were not recorded on video, 33 per cent of interviews were challenged in the High Court.

Human Rights Monitor's director Law Yuk-kai said: 'To speed up the court proceedings is important when we are facing a huge backlog of cases.

'A quick trial could help to protect people from injustice,' Mr Law said.

'But impermissible material heard by the jury might influence the verdict. It is not something the judge could order them to forget,' he said.