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Volume 410: debated on Friday 19 September 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what safeguards exist to deal with the risks of hearsay evidence of an unrecorded cell confession; and if he will make a statement. [130432]

The Government set out its position on these issues in its response, published in March 2003 this year, to the 2nd Report of the Home Affairs Committee (Session 2002–2003) Criminal Justice Bill:

In relation to the admissibility in criminal proceedings of confessions made to third parties, judges already have discretion to exclude evidence if it appears to the court that the admission of the evidence would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings that the court ought not to admit it. When considering exercising this discretion the court would have regard for all the circumstances of the case, including the circumstances in which the evidence was obtained. [Ref: Section 78 Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)].
Judges also have the discretion to exclude evidence where its prejudicial effect would outweigh any probative value. [Ref: Section 82(3) of PACE].
More specifically, where evidence is obtained in circumstances such as confessions made in custody cells, it is also open to the judge to draw the attention of the jury to these circumstances in his summing up.

The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice considered this issue in 1993 and made no recommendation for change. It was considered again by the Law Commission as part of its review of the hearsay laws in 1997. It concluded that confessions should continue to be admissible against their makers, subject to the discretions in PACE and in common law to exclude them. This view was supported on consultation.