If you’re a law student interested in criminal law and human rights, you might find the case of Ambrose v Harris [2011] UKSC 43 pretty interesting. This case looks at when statements made to the police before official detention can be used as evidence in court. The case also provides a really detailed analysis of the right to legal representation under the European Convention on Human Rights. 

In the case of Ambrose v Harris [2011] U.K.S.C. 43, it was held that the principle established in Salduz v Turkey (concerning access to a solicitor prior to police questioning) did not extend to preventing domestic courts from relying on evidence/statements made by defendants during police questioning before their detainment or official arrest.

Facts of the Case in Ambrose v Harris

  • In three separate cases, D were questioned by the police before they were detained at a police station or received legal advice.
  • C relied on statements made before an official arrest from D1, who was drunk, and D2, who answered a cop who knocked on his door. D3’s statements were made after he had been subdued and handcuffed.
  • C relied on these statements all made before proper investigation during the prosecution of each case.
  • D objected that these statements were inadmissible, arguing that their right to a fair trial under the European Convention had been violated. D argued that they should have been informed of a right to see a solicitor before being questioned.


  • Did the right to access a solicitor before being questioned while in police custody extend to before an official arrest has been made?

Held by the House of Lords (Scotland)

  • Finding for C, that the line as to when access to legal advice had to be provided before questioning is drawn from the moment that they have been taken into police custody. It would go further than the European Court had previously stated to interpret Convention rights more broadly in favour for defendants. D3 was the only one who had been placed under police control, and therefore his statements were inadmissible.

Lord Hope

  • There is no domestic rule that a person suspected of an office but not yet in custody has right of access to a lawyer before police questioning. It is not this court’s job to expand the scope of Convention rights beyond what the Strasbourg court justifies.
  • If such a rule was imposed by the European Convention, it would have serious and far-reaching implications for police investigations. If Strasbourg has not yet spoken on the issue, the far wiser move would be to avoid doing so.
  • In none of these cases was D a police detainee. The domestic test for admissibility of their answers to police questioning is whether there was unfairness on the part of the police. D not having access to legal advice while being questioned is a circumstance to regard when applying the test for fairness, but no more than that.
  • The principles discussed in Salduz v Turkey concern the privilege not to self-incriminate. This is an implied, not absolute, right. Implied rights are open, in principle, to restriction and modification as long as that does not violate a fair trial.
  • Saunders v UK [1996] explained that the right is primarily concerned with respecting a person’s choice to remain silent. He is equally free to choose to speak to the police and answer questions, even after cautioning. He can provide them with self-incriminating answers, and his answers will be admissible if they are truly voluntary.
  • The appropriate test is whether the will of the person to remain silent, if that is his will, has been respected. Answers cannot be extracted from him by unfair means, and he must be protected against the risk that they may be forced out of him.
  • “As for the requirement that the individual must be in police custody, I would hold that the Strasbourg court has not said, or at least has not said with a sufficient degree of clarity, that a person who has become a suspect and is not in custody must, as a rule, have access to a lawyer while he is being questioned…That is not to say that the fact that the individual had no access to legal advice in that situation is of no consequence. If it was practicable for access to legal advice to be offered, this will be one of the circumstances that should be taken into account in assessing whether the accused was deprived of a fair hearing, as he is entitled to respect for the right not to incriminate himself. But it is no more than that. The fact that the incriminating statements were made without access to a lawyer does not of itself mean that the rights of the defence are irretrievably prejudiced, as was held to be the case in Salduz on account of the lack of legal assistance while the applicant was in custody” [64].

Significance of the Case in Legal Development

Ambrose v Harris significantly contributes to the understanding of procedural rights in criminal justice:

  1. Salduz v Turkey (2008): This foundational case established the right of individuals to access a lawyer upon detention, influencing the issues in Ambrose.
  2. Saunders v United Kingdom (1996): Explores the limits of the right against self-incrimination under the ECHR, relevant for understanding the implications of pre-detention statements.
  3. Ibrahim and Others v United Kingdom (2016): Examines the balance between fair trial rights and public safety, clarifying the application of rights under different custodial circumstances.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

How have subsequent rulings refined the application of Salduz principles in UK law?

Following Ambrose v Harris, the principles established in Salduz v Turkey have been further refined in UK law to ensure that the rights of detainees to legal representation are upheld from the moment of detention. Cases such as Cadder v HM Advocate [2010] reasserted the necessity for immediate access to legal advice, stressing that any evidence obtained in violation of this right could be deemed inadmissible, thereby strengthening the protection against self-incrimination.

What are the implications of Ambrose v Harris for police interrogation techniques?

The ruling in Ambrose v Harris has direct implications for police interrogation techniques, particularly the requirement to caution detainees about their rights at the earliest opportunity. This case has encouraged law enforcement agencies to adopt procedures that comply with human rights standards, ensuring that suspects are aware of their rights before any interrogation begins, thus safeguarding the integrity of the legal process.

How does this case influence the rights of individuals detained under terrorism legislation?

Ambrose v Harris also impacts how rights are handled under terrorism legislation, particularly regarding the detention and questioning of suspects. For example, the case has influenced the protocols around the timing and manner of providing legal representation to ensure that even under stringent laws like the Terrorism Act, the fundamental rights of suspects, as mandated by both domestic and European law, are not compromised.