Understanding the Law
May 16, 2008
Collecting Evidence

Evidence is the foundation on which criminal cases rest. When a crime is reported, it sets off the investigative action of the justice system. The police is responsible not only for maintaining law and order but for collecting evidence so that the person who commits the crime is found and charged. Their role in apprehending criminals and bringing them before the court is crucial to the justice system and to society by extension. Hence police officers must be well trained and of the highest quality to perform this job.{{more}} It requires them to have a thorough knowledge of the procedural rules for collecting evidence and dealing with suspects. If they fail to perform satisfactorily, it would mean that another criminal would go unpunished.

Rules to follow

In an article captioned Criminal Practices, I noted both the law and the rules that were available to police when interrogating suspects. The Common Law and the Police Act provide the legal framework, while the Judges’ Rules provide the procedures which must be followed.

The Common Law

In dealing with the accused, our Courts are guided by the Common law. The Common Law is based on precedents. These are cases that have been dealt with and which set down one or more aspects of the law. The Privy Council is our highest Court of Appeal and its decisions are binding on our local courts.

It is of great importance for police officers, especially the interrogating officers, to have a thorough knowledge of all important cases which could come to play in their dealings with suspects. Knowledge of these cases would enhance their performance and would prevent them from making errors. Knowledge is power. In fact, police officers should be familiar with all local cases, especially those that were challenged on procedural issues.

Vital witnesses

If a person pleads not guilty to a crime, evidence must be elicited in Court to determine whether he/she is guilty or not. Certain laws and procedural rules must be followed by the court in admitting the evidence. The police must also be guided by the law and procedural rules in the collection of the evidence. An accused could be discharged if there is no strict adherence to the law. The Court relies on the testimony of witnesses who were present at the scene of the crime. The accused is also an important witness in a criminal case, but in the case of murder he could choose to remain silent. Normally, the virtual complainant, i.e, the victim or person who suffers in the crime, is the main witness, but if that person refuses to give evidence it could put an end to the case.


In collecting evidence from the suspect, the interrogating officer must follow a certain procedure. He /she must tell the suspect of his rights. Where the accused wants to make a confession it must be taken without violating his rights. Under the common law, confessions could be excluded if obtained as a result of oppression and where it was not obtained voluntarily. In short, oppression is seen in the context of the questioning and the characteristics of the accused. Further it looks at the length of time when the accused is interrogated. It must not have such an effect as to crumble the will of the suspect. In one case (Fulling,1987), the Court of Appeal stated that the word “oppression” must be given its ordinary dictionary meaning, i.e power must not be exercised in a burdensome or wrongful manner.

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