For us police officers with our uniformly excellent handwriting and superior grasp of the written word, statement taking is one of the most important jobs that we do.
Statements are our bread and butter, our coffee and doughnuts if you will – we spend a lot of time on them as we know the detail we put into these legal documents will strongly influence how a case turns our further down the line.
Statements are indeed a big part of the criminal justice process, this doesn’t mean though that it’s commonly understood why we ask people if they are willing to provide them, nor is it always clear to people what might happen once they have signed on the dotted line.
As we do get a lot of questions about statements, it’d probably be handy to look at them in a little more detail.
As I’ve already mentioned, a statement is a legal document. As statements are designed to be admitted as evidence in court, they’re one of the most legal documents that we produce. They’re really legal.
A statement is a written account from someone of what they heard, saw or did. Or didn’t do.
For a statement to be admissible 1967’s Criminal Justice Act asks that the statement be signed by the person making it, that it includes a declaration that the content is true to the best of that person’s knowledge and that all parties in the case have the chance to see it in advance and do not object to its admission.
The declaration is particularly important as were someone to provide a false statement, they’d be liable for prosecution for the offence of, yes, providing a false statement.
A statement is likely to be taken on a person’s behalf by a police officer who will guide them through the process and ask question after question to build in the detail.
If they’re a little slow on the uptake like I am, this can involve going over the same bits a few times which can require patience but is important to ensure that the content is right.
Alongside an account of what has happened, the statement will also likely contain a few bits and pieces that the person giving it might not have added if they’d written the account themselves.
These bits and pieces may include the legal ‘points to prove’ and a detailed description of the conditions under which an event was witnessed.
For the ‘points to prove’, this means the bits of a legal definition that we have to prove to show that an offence has happened.
For theft as an example, you can’t steal your own property and so if you were to provide a statement following having something stolen, that statement may well contain a line to the effect of ‘The Leonardo Dicaprio poster collection was my property, I had not given anyone permission to take it and no one had any reason to think otherwise‘.
This helps show that the stolen items belonged to you and should someone be arrested with them in their possession, they couldn’t claim that they owned them or that you’d lent them.
As for the circumstances surrounding an observation of an offender, an officer will probably ask questions including how far away you were, whether anything was obstructing your view, what the viability was like etc.
These points are all relevant should it come to court and the defence question your account on the grounds that you couldn’t possibly have seen the accused clearly as you were watching them through frosted glass.
Once a statement is signed, there will always be a possibility that you might have to attend court a few months down the line.
This is only likely to be a prospect if an offender is charged to appear at court and on appearing at court, he or she decides to plea not guilty and a full trial results.
If this happens represents from both sides of the case will sit down and look at the statements to decide whether to accept your statement as is or whether they are going to ask you to come along in person and answer a few questions about what you’d seen.
You’d be notified well in advance if you were going to be asked to attend, it’s important to remember though that once a statement is signed the court can effectively force you to attend – issuing an arrest warrant in extreme circumstances – so if you’re unsure about going to court, you should discuss your concerns with the officer taking the statement before putting pen to paper.
Because it is a possibility that you’ll have to go and see the people with the funny wigs, you need to make sure that you’re absolutely happy that what is in your statement reflects your opinions of what you heard, did or saw.
This is because you might get asked questions about the account and if you sign when something isn’t completely right, the defence might try to portray you as unreliable even though your ‘unreliability’ extends no further than a couple of misinterpretations in your statement.
Now I’m hoping that none of the above puts anyone off providing a statement and as I’ve said, statements are such an important part of the evidence gathering process and we’re reliant on people being willing to come forward and help us build cases.
In a funny way, that the public do continue to provide crucial statements is one of the main motivations for the writing of this here blog – I’m looking to strengthen links between police and public and build confidence in the police as we do our policing by consent meaning the public consent to our work, will approach us and assist us.
If this relationship were to break down, with it could go our ability to do our job effectively.
So there we have it, a quick run down on the practicalities of giving a statement to the rozzers. Any questions, please get it touch!