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

About proxinterpreting

Robert Skinner is a qualified British Sign Language/English interpreter registered with the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD). After more than 20 years of experience as an interpreter, Robert’s areas of specialism include: broadcast media (BBC News), video remote interpreting (with SignVideo), psychology, language processing, applied linguistics, mental health, community and international development. In 2007 Robert began to develop his research experience at Birkbeck (University of London) during completion of a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics. For his thesis, Robert conducted a typological study of BSL number variation in the UK: What Counts? A Typological and Descriptive Analysis of BSL Number Variation. This research documented four distinct BSL number systems and several sub-categories and led to Robert's employment as a researcher & in-house interpreter at the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), University College London. During his time at DCAL Robert worked closely with Gabriella Vigliocco’s lab on a series of signed language processing studies investigating the effects of iconicity (the imagistic properties of sign), for more information click here. As an interpreter at DCAL Robert worked alongside deaf academics in neurology (the Deaf Brain project), language development (the BSL McArthur Bates CDI), sign linguistics and the BSL Corpus Project. In 2009, whilst at DCAL, Robert completed an MSc in Research Methods in Experimental Psychology. For his thesis, Robert developed a phonological decision paradigm where participants were required to identify upward or downward movements within BSL production: We Have Lift Off: Iconic effects with Up/Down Motion. This study contributes to the embodied theory of language processing, having found a facilitation effect when the upward/downward movement itself was iconic. Between 2014 and 2016 Robert continued his work as a Research Associate at Heriot-Watt University. Here Robert contributed to three research projects: Insign, Justisigns and Translating the Deaf Self. Find Robert on Research Gate or Academia.
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8 Responses to Police Caution – British Sign Language (BSL)

  1. thaisaw says:

    Apparently this post is password protected and so I cannot gain access to whatever it is I am supposed to be seeing.



    Thaisa Whistance thaisaterp@gmail.com Skype: thaisaw NRCPD registered sign language interpreter, MASLI, QCF assessor/ IV



  2. Paul Valentine says:

    That’s good about Police Caution to inform the Deaf community around the UK but unfortunately it much heavy information…requires lot of time to explain this…maybe worth to visit the Deaf organisation or their local Deaf Club….encourage them more awareness about it…to link good development between the Police force & Deaf community…near future…by the way. Salute you all on make that’s happen!


  3. Emma says:

    Great to see Glen still working in the field. Good videos too but I’m not sure whether they explain the full consequences of the caution i.e. The inferences that can be drawn but also the fact that officers can ask certain questions in interview too i.e. Special warnings… this is challenging enough in English with hearing people with low academic attainment let alone being interpreted into a different language .

    There are three versions of caution too, one on suspicion of an offence/at interview and also one at report/charge. There is also an additional one which is the same as the pre1995 after someone is charged.

    Having one version of the caution is not possible due to the points made by Glen around people’s backgrounds and PACE does not expect verbatim narrative but there are easier ways of explaining it.

    Good luck with the study


    • proxinterpreting says:

      Its interesting the different view points on the need and importance in producing a BSL caution.

      The argument for a fixed BSL version (for each of the cautions) is to ensure that all deaf people have equal access. “If you don’t freeze the text, you leave the door open for everyone to say something different and claim that they were producing a legally satisfactory caution”. So far, I have not come across a case where evidence was quashed because of how a sign language interpreter has rendered the caution. There is a fear that this day may come.

      Some interpreters are concerned how their interpretation of the caution may influence or misinform the detainee. Currently there is no model or template to guide their interpretation.

      The fixed recording is seen as a useful resource to ensure the detainee is not receiving an interpreted message but a caution produced in a culturally-linguistic relevant way. If the detainee is still unable to comprehend the meaning of the caution, then there needs to be a seperate conversation led by the officer, via the interpreter, to clarify it’s inherent meaning.

      The problem does appear to be “lack of trust”. Trust that either the police officer or interpreter can render the caution in an accurate way that is linguistically suitable and/or the police officer can assist the deaf detainee in understanding the caution. There is a concern around the variability of interpreter standards and abilities.


  4. deafrain says:

    I agree there should be a ‘fixed’ way of interpreting this in BSL, however as you know interpreters have their own interpretation. The video is a good start, but it doesn’t translate to the caution enough I don’t think. It seems more of an explanation and doesn’t come across as something formal. I’m not sure if I’m making sense-it’s hard to explain.

    Actually the first part is more informative than the spoken caution. Do you understand what I mean?

    Kudos to you on starting this. Long overdue.


  5. Corrin Davies says:

    In terms of cultural mediation I think the translation needs to include an explanation that this is a frozen text read to all people who are interviewed under caution.

    People that can hear have access to the caution in television dramas, on the radio and in general conversation. Most hearing people could recount the caution from memory without having any legal training or contact with the police, just because of their contact within the media. They would also understand that the use of the caution is a matter of procedure and is a precurser to the interview beginning.

    Providing this context for deaf people allows them to have an understanding the purpose of the caution (which is fairly abstract in nature) and why it is being read to them:

    1. The police are obligated by law to tell ANY person that is interviewed under caution this information. i.e. this is a frozen text.
    2. The advisory warning is given to ALL people before an interview is conducted (therefore explaining the abstract introduction of these concepts)
    3. It is the precurser to the interview.

    This introduction would provide a context for the information, and culturally mediate to compensate for the lack of access to legal domain most deaf people experience.


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