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

First point contact – Police

Deaf and want to contact the police?

Do you feel unsure if the police will respond in the right way? 

Don’t want to struggle with communication and endure the same types of misunderstandings?

Pen and paper is no good! You want an interpreter – too difficult to find one.

Don’t want to fight to get an interpreter?

These are the sorts of concerns expressed by deaf people when attempting to access the police (Brennan & Brown, 1997). A recent report by the British Deaf Association (Scotland Branch) on Hate Crime explained how deaf people were unlikely to report a hate crime because of communication difficulties and lack of trust.  A simple call for help can become over complicated and a barrier to accessing proper support. The uncertainty of being understood at first point of contact can weaken someone who is already a victim of crime (Rowe, 2007 & 2014). These general concerns resonated in a social media post by James Clark (see video below).

(Jame’s experience at Croydon Police station.)

In James’ case, after experiencing hate crime, he decided to report the issue to his local police. At first, James was unsure how to make the initial contact and obtain support. He tried sending a text message to 999.

Hello. This is NOT an emergency. My name is James Clark, of XXXXX. I am Deaf without speech.BSL interpreter must be present for proper interview. I want to report HATE CRIME. XXXXXXXXXX. It happened earlier this year. I tried to forget about it but it has affected my self esteem. The sooner the better please as I am feeling depressed by XXXXXXX. Thank you.

By chance this worked. He received a reply from a 999 operator. After a few SMS exchanges he received another message from a different number with the following advice.

 “Your Ref No is XXXXX of 7/12/16. We have made an appointment for police to report your crime 9th Dec @0800hrs if unable to keep this appointment please let us know. Do not reply to this text.

Although the SMS worked James had no idea where the interview would happen, if a registered interpreter had been arranged and finally how to respond and ask for more information. The SMS response James received was inadequate and potentially left James exposed to an on going hate crime. James continued as he started by taking matters into his own hands. He decided to make his own way to his local police station (in person) and arrange for a meeting with an interpreter. James is deafblind and the current system did not make it easy to access the policing support he was looking for.

At the station, the officer assisting James offered to arrange a home visit with a police officer who had “some” signing abilities to take a report. Whilst James appreciated the suggestion he requested a registered interpreter be arranged to assist with the interview. The request was flatly declined. Despite James’ attempts to explain or convince the officer to change his position the answer was still “no”. The officer did not comply with James’ reasonable request for an interpreter. This is enshrined in UK and EU laws. The officer also did not honour his own Metropolitan Police pledge:

“Always treat you fairly with dignity and respect, ensuring you have fair access to our services at a time that is reasonable and suitable for you.”

The pledge recognises the importance for the police to be seen and behave in a way that promotes contact and communication. For someone like James, this means access to a professional policing service that can assist and prevent further risk to an ongoing hate crime. These are not trivial matters, they are an important feature of democracy and citizenship (Reiner, 2010). The breakdown in the relationship between the public and police is seen as a causing factor in social disharmony and crime. In the past difficulties have existed between the police and other parts of society such as women, the black community, Asian community and working classes (Bowling and Phillips, 2003; Loader, 2006; Reiner, 2010; Rowe, 2007 & 2013). Two well-known examples came from the BBC, a documentary on the Thames Valley Police showed a disturbing interview where officers demonstrated a complete disregard for a rape victim (BBC 1, 18 January 1982) and the Secret Policeman which uncovered the racist mindset of trainee police officers at the Greater Manchester Police force.


The exposure of how certain police officers behaved towards parts of society supported the case for reform. The police have had to undergo intense scrutiny to change the way they deliver their service and be actively seen as service for all (Rowe & Garland, 2007). This includes building a force that is representative of society. The police are becoming more diverse across the following categories, race, gender and sexuality (Rowe, 2007). What about other linguistic communities in the UK, Gaelic and BSL? These are issues I am exploring for my PhD study and why I am focusing my work on first point contact. Can video technology be delivered in a way that can contribute to the Deaf communities’ public confidence and trust in the police? How far into the police process can video interpreting be used? Is an interpreter enough of a solution?

James’ post on social media did provoke fury and shock amongst his friends. It has also reaffirmed the lack of confidence and trust deaf people have towards the police. Interestingly, many of James’ social media friends signposted him on to their local PLOD officers e.g. Glen Barham (qualified interpreter, retired officer and founder of PLOD), Emma Gilbert (PLOD manager for Leicestershire), or Stephanie Rose (Police Scotland’s Disability & Diversity office). The Police Link Officer for Deaf people (PLOD) is a growing network of police officers who are voluntarily working to improve the way police forces serve their local Deaf communities. Each of these officers were recognised for their BSL skills, their efforts to garner positive relations and improve the way the police respond to the Deaf communities in the UK. Clearly these officers offer an invaluable amount of  in-house expertise on policing and higher level of awareness about the local Deaf communities.

Some of these officers have looked at the concept of using video-relay services to improve first point contact with their local force. Hampshire PLOD conducted a social media survey to determine the views of deaf people in using video relay services (VRS).

A few people responded to this public discussion and all were in favour of the concept because of the difficulties in sourcing an interpreter and the benefit of on-demand access to the police. What some people may not be aware of is the current availability of video interpreting services, here are a few examples:

  • If you require immediate assistance and live in Scotland you can contact your police via the ContactScotland service (a free video relay service for the Scottish Deaf community).
  • If you are based in the Leicestershire area you can sign-up for the free video-relay support. Users must sign-up prior to using the service.

These services aim to provide immediate access to a registered interpreter. Each service believes in the importance of enhancing and improving communication that can bring about security in an individual’s life and the sense of true citizenship in a democratic society – that as a deaf person “I can approach my local police force like any other person“. However, anyone reading this will note how little provision is made to increase access to the police. For people who can hear there are two important nationwide numbers available 999 and 101. For deaf people the situation is strikingly unequal. What happens if you’re not in Scotland, Manchester or Leicestershire? Why should I “sign up” to a service before I can use the service?  Why can’t I press one button or dial one number and make a call? Many of these questions deaf people will ask are outside the scope of my PhD but will influence how I go about my research in assessing video-mediated interpreting for police services.

In this blog I have signposted you to a number of issues around making first point contact and the importance for the police to be accessible, especially when the police are seen to be guardians of a democratic society (Reiner, 2010; Rowe, 2007, 2013). Already, work is being led by PLOD officers who are investing their energy and time to change and improve the way their local force relates to the surrounding deaf communities. I personally believe there is potential for video relay services (VRS) to facilitate first point contact, which is why I am working on this subject with Police Scotland and SignVideo. I suspect the technology will only provide the means to make the first point contact but it will be the in-house PLOD knowledge that will define the quality of that experience and how far into the police process video interpreting services can be used. Furthermore, the system that the police adopt will need to be functionally accessible and easy to use. A deaf person no matter where they are in the UK must have the confidence and faith in the video interpreting service to know it will have any benefit, this includes an officer who will respond in a way that is fair with dignity and respect.


Bowling, Ben, and Coretta Phillips. “Policing ethnic minority communities.” (2003): 528-555.

Brennan, M., & Brown, R. (1997). Equality before the law: Deaf people’s access to justice: Deaf Studies Research Unit Durham, UK.

British Deaf Association (2015). Access & Inclusion: A Report on Hate Crime in Scotland’s Deaf Community. Retrieved on 28/11/16 http://old-bda.org.uk/uploads/BDA/files/BDA_Hate_Crime_Report-March_2015.pdf

Loader, I. (2006). Policing, recognition, and belonging. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 605(1), 201-221

Reiner, R. (2010). The politics of the police. Oxford University Press.

Rowe, M. (2013). Introduction to policing. Sage.

Rowe, M., & Garland, J. (2007). Police diversity training: a silver-bullet tarnished?. Policing Beyond Macpherson, 43.

Rowe, M. (Ed.). (2007). Policing Beyond Macpherson. Willian

If you are, or think you might be, experiencing hate crime contact your local police force or local Deaf organisation (e.g. BDA, Royal Association for the Deaf, Deaf Action, Action Deafness). If you would like to know more about what hate crime is in BSL visit the BDA’s Hate Crime Project page or Police Scotland’s YouTube channel.