Human Rights Protections in Drawing Inferences from Criminal Suspects’ Silence


This article sheds comparative and contextual light on European and international human rights debates around the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to silence. It does so through an examination of adverse inferences from criminal suspect’s silence in three European jurisdictions with differing procedural traditions: Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. The article highlights the manner in which adverse inferences have come to be drawn at trial in the three jurisdictions, despite the existence of both European and domestic legal protections for the right to silence. It also explores differing approaches to the practical operation of inference-drawing procedures, including threshold requirements, varying evidential uses of silence and procedural safeguards. The authors argue that human rights’ standard-setting institutions ought to provide clarity on the conditions under which adverse inferences may be tolerated, including the purpose(s) for which inferences may be used, and the necessary surrounding safeguards.