Police Caution – British Sign Language (BSL)

Signable Limited – www.signable.net

Video Critique of Police Caution prepared for Rob Skinner:

Your Rights When Arrested – Translations Now On-line!

This is good news, but not if you’re deaf.

If you are arrested by the police, it’s serious. Deaf people need to have full access and, for sign language users, that means that the police need an independent qualified interpreter. The language in police settings can be difficult but for an interpreter to work well, they really need to understand what it all means.

Hello, my name is Glen Barham and my background is in policing. I was a police officer for 30 years until 2016 when I retired. Access has been important to me for many years but generally, when the police think of access, they think of how you get in the building or up the stairs. Access for deaf people is about Access to Information and Access to Service.

When a person is arrested, the officer will say the Police Caution, also referred to as the ‘Right to Silence’. I have seen interpreters sign this as ‘Warning’ – almost like a telling-off, and others as ‘be careful’ but it is neither of those. Really the police caution is important information and so I use the sign ‘Inform’.

When I joined the police the wording was easier, it used to be:

“You do not have to say anything unless you wish to do so, but what you say may be given in evidence”.

In 1995, there was a new version of the Police Caution and it is what the police use today.

The ‘new’ Caution is:

“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.”

But how is that translated? Well, when it comes to foreign languages, there are agreed translations. On-line the Government has the Notice of Rights and Entitlements translated into 55 different foreign languages (see link) but there is no agreed version of the Caution in British Sign Language.


I think that could cause a problem.

Interpreters will often say that you cannot have one version of the police caution because all deaf people are different and they say that it should be adjusted to match each individual person.

That can’t be right. If I were seeking to discredit the evidence or an admission in court, I would want to ask the interpreter how they had signed the initial Caution. I know from talking to some that they have a version they’ve adopted (sometimes created from their own understanding or misunderstanding of it) but others may say, “well, it was something like this…” – that is open to further questioning.

I remember, as a police officer, I was asked in court if I had cautioned the person I arrested. When I said I had, the court asked me to recite the Caution. They didn’t ask if the person had understood, they were making sure I had used the right words. If the process is right, the court can consider the evidence. If the process is wrong, then the court starts to look at that.

With regard to hearing people, not all understand the meaning of the Police Caution when it is given to them on arrest and there is no variation available at that stage based on their educational background, experience of criminal justice or ability to understand … the officer will recite the Caution in the form of words dictated by legislation. Explanation of the Caution is a different matter and that should be occurring at the commencement of interview and will vary depending on the recipient’s understanding.

So what does the Caution mean?

You can break down the Caution into three parts.

  1. You do not have to say anything.

This part is the ‘Right to Silence’. But it means more than just “You can say nothing”. This is when the police ask you questions about something that has happened. It’s true, you can say nothing but you can also explain what happened in full. But there is a third option; you can answer some questions. So if the police ask you questions, you can decide to answer each question or not.

Some interpreters will translate this as all or nothing. But you can answer all questions, some questions or no questions. It is your choice.

  1. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.

This bit is more confusing. People will say, “What? Am I going to court?” It doesn’t mean you will go to court but if you go to court, you need to be aware of this.

At court, if you give an explanation for what happened and it’s the first time that you have mentioned it, then the court may be less willing to believe you. They may think, why didn’t you say this when the police asked you about it?

To give an example: A young man, Dave is in a park and someone sees him climb over a wall into the garden of a house. They contact the police. The police arrive and find Dave in the garden next to a broken window. He is arrested on suspicion of breaking in, they Caution him and take him to the police station.

In interview they ask him why he was in the garden and he decides to say nothing. He will not answer any questions. He is charged and goes to court.

At court, they ask him why he was in the garden of the house and he says, “Oh, we were playing football in the park and the ball went over the wall. I climbed over to get the ball. I saw that the window was broken. I walked over to look at the broken window and that’s when the police arrived. I think the ball must have broken the window. It was an accident”.

The court will ask, “Why didn’t you tell the police?” and they might think Dave has had time to think and make up the story.

If Dave had told the police at the time, they could have looked in the garden for the ball; they could have talked to the people he was playing football with.

  1. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

This part is straightforward. It just means that anything you say will be written down or recorded on film and the police can use that as evidence. They can tell the court what you have said.

Video of the Caution

As I said, there is no agreed BSL version of the police caution.

This video shows my version and this was created working with a colleague, Sergeant Gabe Snuggs, other interpreters and deaf people. We worked to make sure that everything was included and clearly explained. Now, have a look:

I’m not saying that this is perfect but if there was an agreed BSL version, that would be a good starting point. It could also form the basis of information available to the Deaf Community to demystify the police process and raise awareness and understanding.

What do you think? Let’s start the conversation about an agreed way to sign the Police Caution in BSL.

I’d like to thank Glen for contributing his blog/vlog to my website. I have listed other examples of the caution delivered in BSL (below). The police caution differs between England/Wales to Scotland. So… over to you! How would you sign the police caution? Can we develop an agreed version of the caution? 

BSL Police caution in England & Wales

The Right to silence (BSL translation) is from the North East Interpreters website. The translation is of an older version of the caution.

Video is by Roger Beeson, the caution is delivered in BSL with a background explanation delivered in English – click the closed captioning button for subtitles.

BSL Police caution in Scotland

Two parts – the caution & the caution explained

For a background of how the Justisigns’ Scottish caution was developed go to Justisigns Translation workshop


Other useful resources

Seaborn, B., Andrews, J. F., & Martin, G. (2010). Deaf Adults and the Comprehension of MirandaJournal of Forensic Psychology Practice10(2), 107-132.

A real world case study: Homicide by David Simon. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://landmarkcases.org/en/Page/465/A_Real_World_Case_Study_Homicide_by_David_Simon