Silence with caution: The right to silence in police investigations in Belgium

Ashlee Beazley*, Fien Gilleir, Michele Panzavolta, Joëlle Rozie, Miet Vanderhallen

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article is about the right to remain silent within Belgium. Although the right has always been considered applicable, both the courts and parliament have historically demonstrated a disinclination to define or engage with this. The right to silence is now formally recognised in the Belgian Code of Criminal Procedure, albeit with the classic distinction between those who are not (yet) accused of a crime and those who are formal suspects: while all enjoy the right not to incriminate themselves, only formal suspects in Belgium enjoy the explicit right to remain silent. Accordingly, whilst no one may be obliged to assist with their own conviction or be forced to co-operate with the authorities, it remains unclear how far the right not to cooperate effectively stretches. The case law seems to be moving, albeit slowly, in the direction of confining this right within narrower borders, particularly by excluding its applicability with regard to the unlocking and decryption of digital devices. This is not, however, the only idiosyncrasy concerning the right to silence in Belgium. Among those also addressed in this article are: the lack of caution on the right to remain silent given to arrested persons immediately following their deprivation of liberty (an absence striking for its apparent breach of Directive 2012/13/EU on the right to information in criminal proceedings); the possible inducement to breach the right to silence via the discretionary powers of the public prosecutor to offer a reduction or mitigation in sentence; the obscurity surrounding the definition of ‘interrogation’ and the consequences of this on both the caution and the obtaining of statements; and the extent to which judges can draw adverse inferences from the right to silence. The question remains: is the right to silence currently protected enough?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-426
Number of pages19
JournalNew Journal of European Criminal Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Directive 2013/48/EU
  • Directive 2016/343/EU
  • Right to silence
  • criminal investigations
  • police interrogations
  • privilege against self-incrimination
  • right to a fair trial
  • right to legal assistance
  • right to silence
  • rights of the defence

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