Often when the public question the police they use obstruction as an excuse to arrest or shut down the questioning. Obstruction has to be with intent and this case law can be very helpul.
Rice v Connolly
Obstruction of the Police. An important case for limiting the scope
of ‘obstruction’, by saying that you could not be convicted of obstruction for refusing to do something which
you have a legal right not to do.
The references to this case in the law
journals (which you are supposed to quote in court—it has been reported in two different journals, though you
wouldn’t have to quote both references in court) are  QB 414 and  2 AllER 649, which you read out
as, “1966, Queen’s Bench, page 414” or “1966 volume 2, All England Reports, page 649.”
Facts & background of case
The police were investigating a serious of
break-ins during the night, and saw Rice behaving suspiciously in the early hours of the morning. They therefore
stopped him and asked him for his name and address, and then asked him to accompany them to a police box
to confirm his identity. Rice refused. He was arrested for obstruction and convicted by Grimsby magistrates, and then
again on appeal to Grimsby Quarter Sessions.[note] He then appealed by ‘case stated’ (i.e. on a
matter of law) to the Divisional Court. His appeal was upheld and his conviction quashed: this is the
judgment of the Divisional Court in upholding his appeal.
of the judgment
The judgment turned on the meaning of the
word “wilfully” in the obstruction charge. It was deemed to mean “without lawful excuse” and the judges then
considered whether Rice had a lawful excuse for refusing to give his name and address or go to the police
box. They decided that he did, because of the legal right to
silence. It’s easier to explain by reading the following passage:
It is quite clear that the appellant was
making it more difficult for the police to carry out their duties, and that the police at the time and throughout
were acting in accordance with their duties. The only remaining element of the alleged offence, and
the one on which in my judgment this case depends, is whether the obstructing of which the
appellant was guilty was a wilful obstruction. “Wilful” in this context in my judgment means not only
“intentional” but also connotes something which is done without lawful excuse . . . .
Accordingly, the sole question here is whether the appellant had a lawful excuse for refusing
to answer the questions put to
him. In my judgment he had. It seems to me quite clear that though every
citizenhas a moral duty or, if you like, a social duty to assist the police,
there is no legal duty to that effect, and indeed the whole
basis of the common law is that right of the individual to refuse to answer questions put to him by
persons in authority, and a refusal
to accompany those in authority to any particular place, short, of course, of arrest. (Parker, CJ, at page 651H–652B of  2
Note that giving false
information is treated differently from remaining silent:
In my judgment there is all the difference
in the world between deliberately telling a false story, something which on no view a citizen has a right to
do, and preserving silence or refusing to answer, something which he has every right to do.(Parker, CJ, at page 652C)
Finally, there is some
comment about whether the court had convicted Rice partly because of his alleged sarcastic and awkward attitude when stopped.
This is not made an issue in this case, and Chief Justice Parker doubts whether it would have been sufficient for
conviction in this case anyway. But one comment from one of the
other judges is relevant for another case Ricketts v Cox:
For my own part I would only add this,
that I would not go so far as to say that there may not be circumstances in which the manner of a person together
with his silence could amount to an obstruction. . . (James, J, at page 652I)
use of the case
This is useful in limiting the definition
of obstruction of the police, where Hinchliffe v Sheldon had appeared to open it up very widely. It should be
useful if you are charged with obstruction for not doing something, whether remaining silent or anything else.
So long as you have a legal right not to remain silent or not to do whatever it is that causes the alleged obstruction,
you should be able to use Rice v Connolly to
argue that your obstruction has a lawful excuse and is therefore not“wilful.”
Check out how police act beyond their authority in this interview from Windows on the World.
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