Wednesday 24 February 2021

The right to silence, citizen's duties and the Coronavirus Regulations - Neale v DPP

Keith Neale’s conviction for obstructing a police officer was quashed by the High Court, sitting at Cardiff. In an important judgment on the right to silence, the legal duties of citizens and the operation of Coronavirus Regulations, Mrs Justice Steyn and Lord Justice Dingemans held that justices at Newport Magistrates’ Court had erred in distinguishing Mr Neale’s case from Rice v Connolly and in finding him guilty of wilfully obstructing a police constable by declining to give his name and address to a police officer.

On 23 April 2020, during the first lockdown, Mr Neale, a 60 year old man, had gone into Newport City Centre to take his key worker friend’s car for an MOT test. He was sitting on a bench waiting for the test to be done when he was approached by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who asked him to provide reasons for being in public and to provide his name and address so that a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) could be issued. Mr Neale declined to provide this information. A police officer attended the scene and demanded Mr Neale’s name and address. He refused and was then arrested and taken to a police station despite the risks involved during the height of the pandemic.

Mr Neale was prosecuted under the original Welsh Coronavirus Regulations for leaving home without reasonable excuse and obstructing a police officer by refusing to provide his name and address so that a Fixed Penalty Notice could be issued to him.

Quashing Mr Neale’s conviction, the High Court stated that:

the Appellant was under no common law obligation to give the police his name and address;

the right to silence is not reserved only for the innocent and those beyond suspicion (in Mr Neale’s case he was, in fact, acquitted of the offence he had been accused of);

the Appellant was not under a statutory obligation pursuant to the Coronavirus Regulations to give his name and address to the police – the Coronavirus Regulations do not expressly create such an obligation;

the Appellant’s refusal to provide his details foiled the police officer’s intention to issue an FPN but did not render the legislative scheme unworkable – if there are grounds for suspecting an offence and the suspect refuses to give their name and address they can, pursuant to section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, be arrested, as the Appellant was in this case. It was not therefore necessary to imply an obligation to give details to the police into the Regulations in order for the legislative scheme to operate;

the Appellant’s case was distinguishable from other cases where wilful obstruction had been found – most importantly, none of those cases were about compelled speech;

the right to remain silent is a particularly important part of our law. In addition, an obligation to give a name and address to the police would engage Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

the courts should be wary of expanding police powers by implication – where Parliament has chosen to compel speech it has done so expressly;

the absence of an express obligation to give a name and address in the Coronavirus Regulations powerfully demonstrates that it does not exist;
the Appellant was not required to give his name and address to the police and it follows that his refusal to do so was not wilful;

the justices at Newport Magistrates’ Court erred in distinguishing the Appellant’s case from Rice v Connolly in finding him guilty of wilfully obstructing a police constable.

The judgment was a significant restatement of the position in Rice v Connolly that there is no general common law duty to assist the police and a person cannot be guilty of wilfully obstructing a police officer by remaining silent when questioned if there is no legal duty to answer questions. There is no such duty under Coronavirus Regulations.

Separately, Mr Neale’s case raises serious questions about the enforcement of Coronavirus Regulations and may have implications for policing and for those who have been issued fixed penalty notices by the police and/or prosecuted for offences under the Regulations.

Firstly, the case calls into question the logic behind aspects of the criminal justice response to the public health crisis created by the Coronavirus pandemic. Mr Neale was not placing anyone at risk when he sat on a bench lawfully waiting for an MOT test to be completed. The risk to public health, and cost to the taxpayer, was brought about by his subsequent arrest, detention and prosecution.



  1. There is no right to remain silent. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. In the above case the man refused to give his name, and now everyone knows his name. Really worked out well for him.

    1. There is a clear right to remain silent, the Police statement before arrest does not change that. No one can force you to speak.

      Really worked out for him because his conviction was quashed and Police will now think twice before hassling him in the future. Well done.

  2. Even though what Mr. Neale did was wrong but the outcome of it was more wrong. The police never knew the circumstances that Mr. Neale might’ve been facing and because of which he would've come out of his home. Being a provider of philosophy assignment help UK online, I acknowledge that police are worried because of the coronavirus breakdown, but that clearly doesn’t mean that police own the innocent ones!

    1. It's not wrong to have the freedom to go outside.

    2. Well said. I am amazed at the willingness of some to give up our right to freedom.

  3. We should follow all SOP's to cure loved ones because this is too dangerous for health.
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