Understanding the Law
March 23, 2007
What is PACE?

A few weeks ago, few persons had heard about PACE although it has been around and in our Criminal Court for quite some time. However, with the decision of the Government to abolish the act, quite a great deal of discussion has been generated. I will discuss some aspects of this act especially and in light of the Case of Eversley Thompson v the Queen (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 1998) because the Privy Council discussed PACE at length when it was raised in that case. It may be said that that case had reached the Court of Appeal and it was not until the Privy Council was petitioned for leave to appeal by the appellant that the issue of PACE was raised.{{more}}

PACE is the abbreviation for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which was enacted in England in 1984. The Act relates to “the powers of the police to stop and search persons; to enter and search premises and to seize property therein; to make arrests, to detain persons without charge and after charge and to question persons who have been detained;

(Archbold, 2000). It involves other persons such as the Director of Public Prosecution, the Judge and Lawyers who must interpret PACE and as such it affects not only investigation but trials as well.

The Act defines the limits of the powers of police officers in the above areas and provides a series of checks and controls on the exercise of those powers.” The Act is further supplemented by a series of Codes of Practice. The 1984 Act includes Code A which deals with Stop and Search, Code B with Search of premises, Code C with Detention and Questioning of Suspects, Code D with Identification. Code E with Tape Recording and Code F on Video Recording of Interviews with Suspects have since been added. The codes have been produced by the Home Secretary of England. The Act has been amended as recent as 2005. It must be noted that PACE does not cover all the powers or duties of the police. Police powers still exist under the common law and statute, for example the Police Act.

Thompson v the Queen

Eversley Thompson was charged with the murder of a child (four years and ten months old) from La Pompe, Bequia. He appealed his case all the way to the Privy Council denying that he had made an oral or written confession and claiming that he was assaulted by the police. His case was sent back by the Privy Council to the Court of Appeal to answer two questions because the issue of PACE was not ventilated in the first decision of the Court of Appeal and was not use in the Courts below.

Applicability of PACE in our Laws

Sections 5 and 6 of the Application of English Law Act 1989 (Cap 8 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) provide for the use of English Laws in certain situations. According to the Court of Appeal “whenever any question arises in any Criminal Proceedings before any Court touching the admissibility of any evidence, and there are not provisions in the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines which regulate the determination of such questions, the provisions of PACE, subject to such modifications as are applicable and necessary, are to determine those questions and by necessary implication to guide the conduct of the Police in their investigation to the extent that it is relevant to the issue of admissibility.” In short, the Court of Appeal recognized that PACE applies where there are no provisions in the laws which regulate the determination of a particular issue.

Our Evidence Act of 1988 failed to deal with matters concerning admissibility of evidence and from their discussion the Privy Council thought that sections 76 and 78 of PACE dealing with confession and exclusion of unfair evidence respectively were applicable. Their Lordships, however, thought that Code C was not relevant. Code C deals with the conduct of persons charged with the duty of investigating offences in the United Kingdom and could not be transferred to the Colonies without modification as it should take account of local circumstances.

• Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com