back to article 'Self-incriminators' may be forced to tell the court what they know

People accused of misusing confidential commercial or technical information have lost the right to avoid self-incrimination in court cases, following a High Court ruling. The ruling means that a law previously thought to apply only to intellectual property cases now applies to any case in which confidential commercial or …


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  1. JaitcH

    "privilege against self incrimination ... not available in "proceedings for infringement of rights"

    My money is that Blair/Brown/Blunkett and possibly even Straw was involved in promoting this legislation.

    What defences still exist in the UK? Arrested - you have to spill your defence; computers - you have to cough up the password or go to jail. etc.

    Maybe the only defence left is amnesia - or 'Plod took all my notes and I don't recall anything'.

    What a sad state of affairs. It's enough to make you immigrate.

    1. Jedit

      Enough to make you immigrate

      So the worse it gets, the more likely you are to move to Britain?

    2. Burch

      A high court judgement...

      ...made now with those you mention not even in government.

      I suggest that instead you emigrate.

    3. david wilson


      >>"My money is that Blair/Brown/Blunkett and possibly even Straw was involved in promoting this legislation."

      As well-researched and accurate as usual, I see.

      >>"...but a law passed to tackle video piracy *IN THE 1980s* removes that right... "

    4. Ammaross Danan

      I plead the 5th

      Gotta love those Bill of Rights the Yanks drafted up, eh? Considering "Parliament" is mentioned, this is most definitely a UK thing, for those across the pond in the USA readership.

  2. There's a bee in my bot net

    What are the concequences...

    ...of him not saying anything at all? Is he looking at more chokey than his likely sentence if he did incriminate himself? I mean, regardless of what the law says, you cannot be forced to speak unless perhaps you are in Gitmo or are 'falling down some stairs' on the way to the cells etc.

    1. Steven Jones

      It would be contempt

      Anybody not handing over evidence if ordered to do so by a court judgement could be found guilty of being in contempt of court. That is very likely to mean jail.

      1. There's a bee in my bot net

        r.e. It would be contempt

        A bit of googling and if wikipedia is to be believed then the maximum sentence would be 1 month in gaol and £2500 for a civil court and 2 years for a criminal court.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Andy Hards

    I was lost after the firast sentance

    Anyway, probably to do with political correctness gone mad.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The brand name on this here crowbar is trademarked too, innit?

    And using a crowbar is no doubt a highly technical enterprise.

    Yay for (unintentionally) overbroad laws and a nice demonstration of how that pesky slippery slope works. Denying it cannot go any further down will inevitably be demonstrated false, that really is only a matter of time.

    If we believe that there should exist any right to not incriminate oneself, we should not be overly selective in who is to have that right. Just grant it, and protect it. If not, well, let's just stop pretending then, shall we? This ruling is so broad that for anyone in IT ("information" AND "technology" right there, see?) that PSI thing is effectively a dead letter already.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just forget things

    So instead of smugly stating "I invoke my right not to incriminate myself" perhaps a simple "I don't recall" would have been a more favourable strategy for him. Having a surprisingly selective memory seems to work out fine for politicians/business execs.

  6. bobbles31
    Thumb Down


    It took 100's/1000's of years of fighting and bloodshed, millions of lives lost to get to a society where the individual has rights that protect him/her from the state and guarantees fairness for all and we (no doubt through bribery...ahem...lobbying) start picking it apart to stop someone copying a VHS version of Top Gun!

    Way to go!

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up stealing trade secrets.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not sure...

      I'm not sure that I really understand why anyone would have the right to not incriminate themselves though. If you have committed a crime why should you get away with it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm pretty sure...

        ... you don't understand what you're talking about. To the point that you fail to presume innocence until proven guilty.

        The right not to have to incriminate yourself is so you don't have to help the prosecution do their job and prove you guilty. You're not allowed to interfere by making evidence vanish or by lying about it, but neither should you be forced to dig up as much dirt on yourself as you can find. It's not forbidden to plead guilty and voluntarily provide the evidence, mind. But the right to not incriminate yourself says you can't be forced to do it.

        Unless, of course, that right is stripped from you. Which is what's happening here, by very mechanic of the slippery slope. If you don't understand how bad that is, well, you might as well believe you have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear, too.

        1. david wilson


          >>"Unless, of course, that right is stripped from you. Which is what's happening here, by very mechanic of the slippery slope."

          'Slippery Slope' arguments are often pretty bogus, and used to argue against something not on the basis of arguable rights and wrongs of the case, but based on taking a particular thing to an extreme conclusion that it's not likely to reach in practice.

          Effectively it's like arguing against choosing a particular shade of grey not by arguing about the pros and cons of that shade, but by arguing that grey always leads to black or white (and generally to black).

          If someone was to take a 'principle' of non-incrimination to the other extreme, why should it not cover me choosing whether or not to give evidence against someone based on how much I like them, claiming that it's up to the state to make its case without *my* help?

          In this particular case, there certainly seem to be valid arguments against forcing someone to give evidence, but those arguments should stand or fall on their own merit, not based on the FUD of slippery slope arguments.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "'Slippery Slope' arguments are often pretty bogus"

            Yes, but what if you run into an actual slippery slope?

            Here, I'm pointing out that we have a law that strips some rights, which is now being stretched up on the premise of "let's not be too picky who we strip rights from, shall we", implying that further broadening is to be expected, and the scope of that is such that not having those rights stripped from you might become an exception.

            I'd say that would fit the description. I don't think that poor merit of other arguments should be a reason not to stand up against what's happening here. If you call this FUD, will you be honest and advocate dropping the PSI thing entirely?

            1. david wilson


              >>"Yes, but what if you run into an actual slippery slope?"

              This particular case does seem one where it would be entirely valid to have a discussion about whether it is going too far, but how much further one or other person might want to take things in future isn't really part of that discussion, since not only is it speculative, but it's clear that numerous changes to many systems which most people would see as justifiable could be portrayed in a way which, taken to an extreme would result in something people would find unacceptable.

              That's the problem with slippery slope arguments - they're effectively non-arguments or discussion killers.

              And as for slippery slopes in general, it does seem that people often assume that there's some kind of inevitable momentum involved even when there's no obvious source of such momentum, and that even though [presumably?] there's a point beyond which the situation becomes less and less desirable to more and more people, those people will lack the means to halt things or change direction. That doesn't seem to show a great deal of faith in people in general.

              >>"I don't think that poor merit of other arguments should be a reason not to stand up against what's happening here."

              I think the reasons for standing up (or not) against what's happening here should be based on the rights and wrongs of what's happening here.

              >>"If you call this FUD, will you be honest and advocate dropping the PSI thing entirely?"

              Relying on slippery slope arguments *is* relying on FUD, since it's bringing up frightening (or at least deeply undesirable) extremes and alleging that them happening is a *possible* consequence of deciding something now - "If you allow X, it's possible that scary Y might eventually happen".

              It's a way of failing to look at the actual merits or drawbacks of X, and a way that a cynic might suspect is being proposed by someone who doesn't think they actually have a strong enough case against X without appealing to the slippery slope.

      2. david wilson


        >>"I'm not sure that I really understand why anyone would have the right to not incriminate themselves though"

        For someone not in a 'special position', a right not to give evidence does protect people who aren't particularly bright or articulate against having their words twisted by someone convinced they're guilty.

        There's certainly an argument for requiring people in certain positions of privilege to give evidence (company officers, state employees, etc), though it would be nice to have the relevant responsibilities laid out clearly in advance, and have people sign up to them before being allowed to take on the role.

        If someone had to acknowledge the responsibilities of being a company director before being allowed to be one, then they wouldn't have any right to complain if they were prosecuted for failing in their responsibilities later on.

  7. James Micallef Silver badge

    cannot refuse??

    "Mulcaire cannot now refuse to answer questions or provide information in the case". Of course he can refuse. Presumably there are consequences to this (what, adn why are they not mentioned)

    And as someone mentioned above, just claim forgetfulness. It can't be proven either way.

    1. ~mico


      If I remember correctly, this didn't work in password reveal cases...

      "Your brain is in contempt of the court... do you want it jailed separately or prefer to move along with it?"

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    In case anyone doesn't know

    If you are in contempt of court you can be jailed indefinitely, or until such time as you 'purge' your contempt, say sorry, fall on the floor weeping and promise to tell them everything they want to know about everything (even if you don't know everything).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ah yes, we have seen this kind of justice before

      "We know you are guilty. You must confess."

      "We will send you to jail until you tell us what we want to know"

      Isn't the point of court to determine the truth or otherwise of information gleaned in the preceding investigation that was used to determine whether or not there is a case? This is exactly why people have the right to not incriminate themselves. Because the accused is a reluctant and therefore unreliable witness.

      Extracting new evidence in court is kinda putting the cart before the horse isn't it?

      If you state that you "do not know" to every question, the only way that they can determine if you are in contempt of court is using other evidence to prove that you are lying, in which case they didn't need your testimony in the first place.

      Confess or we will use the comfy chair and the soft cushions.

  9. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    video piracy?

    And then I suppose they hanged them in old film strips at Execution Dock?

    But far be it from to day that the copyrights of Disney aren't one tasty mess of pottage.

  10. Argus Tuft


    so if i bash a granny over the head with an iron bar that's OK and I can refuse to testify, but if I photocopy a page out of a book I'm such a threat that this right must be forgone??

    sick sick world we're creating I'm afraid..... corporate profits must be protected. people can just be bred to meet demand...

    1. gratou


      Human rights come *after* corporate rights don't you know?

      Even worse in the US in some respect [not the one mentionned in the article] where corporations, despite not being natural persons, are recognised by law to have rights and responsibilities like natural persons ("people"), and can exercise human rights against real individuals and the state.

      Sick world indeed.

      1. paulc

        Such a pity...

        corporations cannot be executed...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    None of this...

    ...will stop our Dear Leaders from continuing to bomb poorer nations into the Stone Age in order to make them adopt our freedoms.

    Ironic, isn't it, that the wars themselves are used as an excuse to prevent us from objecting to the removal of those very freedoms here in Britain?

  12. David Hicks

    Every time I hear of the application of laws made in the last decade

    I'm happier about my move to Australia.

    No, it's not exactly a shining beacon of freedom and has it's own problems but they don't seem to be quite as stupid as the UK, and I'm not quite as familiar with (and contemptuous of) the political system here yet

  13. Old Handle

    How... modern

    So will they be using the old standby peine forte et dure or have they moved on to electroshock?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    European Court of Human Rights

    I think European Court of Human Rights might have something to say about this. And it may not be favorable to the government. England has been slapped for similar case before:

    ""Heaney and McGuinness v. Ireland" (2000) - Case involving two Irish citizens imprisoned for choosing to remain silent and to use their rights not to incriminate themselves when suspected of an IRA-related terrorist act. "The Court, accordingly, finds that the security and public order concerns relied on by the Government cannot justify a provision which extinguishes the very essence of the applicants' rights to silence and against self-incrimination guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention."[1]"

    I'd guess the laweyers are already making an appeal and it might scrap the current law alltogether. Although as with fingerprint they might just make some token changes and wait for next case to trickle through are courts...

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