n Journal of Law, Society and Development - The right to remain silent : a one-eyed approach to truth-seeking?

Volume 2 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2313-8289



The right to remain silent is one of the most important symbols of a fair trial in the accusatorial legal systems, to which South Africa also belongs. In certain countries, such as the United States and South Africa, this right is constitutionally entrenched as a fundamental human right, which virtually guarantees that adverse inferences cannot be drawn against an accused who fails to disclose pre-trial information. The accused is thereby excluded as a critical source of information during this stage of the proceedings. In essence, this means that the criminal process is compelled to close one eye to a valuable and crucial source of information. Other jurisdictions within the accusatorial family, notably England and Scotland, have introduced legislation aimed at crime control which essentially compels the accused to break his or her silence during the pre-trial stage of the criminal process. The very essence of the right to remain silent as a fundamental human right is proving problematic to the South African Constitutional Court when considering it within the context of the limitation clause. It is argued, in this article, that the solution lies, first, in a substantive constitutional analysis of rights and, secondly, in interpreting the right as a functional evidentiary principle with the aim of securing procedural fairness.

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