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Police Notebook - a brief overview

Evolution of the notebook...

Police Notebooks have been a staple feature in many a crime drama on the television, in books, and in films, for many years. But what goes in them, and how did the reliance in criminal cases - the trust factor - in their contents come about?

The Police Notebook is the primary record-taking tool of a Military Policeman. Used to note orders, missing persons, lost property, patrol notes, arrests, and in fact every possible situation and event an MP might encounter whilst on duty, the Police Notebook has evolved over close to a century and a half of Police Work in both civilian and military environments. So versatile is the Police Notebook, that its design and usage has hardly changed over the intervening years when it first became a tool in fighting crime.

The earliest recorded example found in the current bout of research into this topic is from 1840. http://microsites.lincolnshire.gov.uk/Archives/section.asp?catId=8220. Note the use of pencil rather than ink, and the lack of page numbering.

The Metropolitan Police, the first large organised Police Service in the world, was founded in 1829. In it's close to 180 year history, it is a prime example of all the common standards beought into Police practices, none more so than the use of the Police Notebook.

Initially small jotter-like pads, eventually the "Met" issued pocket books for its' officers to record their duties, and occurrances within those duties, as well as usefu notes, and such like. Not goverened by any law or precedents, but by certain rules imposed by the Police Forces of the day instead, such as the "Police Code" and "Manual of Criminal Law", the notebooks evolved on their own into a massively useful tool in the fight against crime. However, as with all things, common errors and misuse of the notebooks did occur, and as a result of this, Judges' Rules were introduced.

The Judges' Rules were first issued in 1912 by the judges of the King's Bench, in order to give English Police forces guidance on the procedures that they should follow in detaining and questioning suspects. The Home Secretary of the time had requested the judges to explain how an investigation should be conducted, so as to avoid the resulting evidence being ruled inadmissible in court. The rules were intended to halt a divergence in practice that had developed between different police forces, and replaced earlier informal guidance, such as Sir Howard Vincent's Police Code and Manual of Criminal Law.

The Judges' Rules were not rules of law, but rather rules of practice for the guidance of the police, setting out the kinds of conduct that could cause a judge to exercise discretion to exclude evidence, in the interests of a fair trial. High Court judge Lawrence J explained in R. v. Voisin [1918] 1 KB 531, that:

“In 1912 the judges, at the request of the Home Secretary, drew up some rules as guidance for police officers. These rules have not the force of law; they are administrative directions the observance of which the police authorities should enforce upon their subordinates as tending to the fair administration of justice. It is important that they should do so, for statements obtained from prisoners, contrary to the spirit of these rules, may be rejected as evidence by the judge presiding at the trial.”

The rules did not alter the law on admissibility of evidence, but became a code of best practice: it was assumed that statements given by a suspect in accordance with the Rules would be admissible in evidence.

The Rules:

  • Allowed the police to question any person with a view to finding out whether, or by whom, an offence had been committed
  • Required the police to give a caution when they had reasonable grounds to suspect that a person had committed an offence
  • Required a further caution when a person was charged and prohibited questioning afterwards charging save in exceptional circunstances
  • Required a record of questioning to be kept
  • Gave guidance on the best way to record a formal written statement

The rules also included further administrative guidance, on access to defence counsel, and on questioning children and foreigners.

The five further rules were added to the original four Rules in 1918, and the rules were further explained in 1934 in a Home Office Circular 536053/23. The Rules were reissued in 1964 as Practice Note (Judge's Rules) [1964] 1 WLR 152.

In addition, thanks to precedent and practice changes between the early 1900s and the mid to late 1900s, Police Notebooks were now issued on a one-for-one basis (no officer or NCO could possess more than one Police notebook at any given time), and pages were now numbered, to easily show if pages had been torn out (a bar to guaranteeing the evidenciary value of any notes made).

Up to this point, no mention had been made of what the notes should be recorded with - pencil or ink. The Royal Military Police, however, saw a change in 1971, when over the period 8th May 1971 to 15th may 1971, notes were changed from being recorded in pencil, to being recorded in permenant ink (the gap in precision is due to the source of this information being on a weeks' leave at the time of the change!)

To aid the Military Policeman in his duties, and to act as an aide memoir while out on duty, the general rules were printed on the front of all Service Police notebooks issued to Military Police, as follows:

  1. Only original entries must appear in the Notes, and should be made with ink or ball point pen.
  2. All notes must be entered at the time to which they relate and while the facts are fresh in the memory of the person compiling the notes.
  3. It is important that notes are not made elsewhere and afterwards copied in the Note Books.
  4. Under no circumstances must a leaf be taken out of the Note Book. If any alteration is required it must be done by striking the pen through the words, and writing the correction over; and never by erasure.
  5. Accuracy is the value of any notes made.

In addition, a small note was added: "Neatness is not so important if the notes are readable."

On the inside front cover of the notebook, a brief precicé of the Judges' Rules was also made, pretaining to the use of the Caution given to suspects/offenders.

Judges Rules were finally replaced by PACE Code C made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

What are Notebooks used for?

Service Police notebooks are used to form the basis of most official reports that follow on from an RMP NCO performing his many and varied duties. Primarily used for theGeneral Policing role, notes made at the time of an incident, arrest, or other situation, will be used to form the basis for the reports that RMP submit to other unit Commenders; for example, in the event of a traffic collision, reports on the collision woul be sent to Army legal services, the drivers' commander, and if required, the third parties' insurance company (although it not very often that this last part happens).

For the provost Operations side of things, in addition to the normal Police Duty side of things, certain operations notes on the conduct of any given military route that the NCO might be assigned to help run, would be recorded, along with any brief notes as to what to keep watch for, local points of interest, and so on; this is not to say that classified notes would be recorded in a notebok - far from it; only such material that an NCO would need to run his or her part of a military route would be noted, and than, only the material that it would be advantageous for the NCO to know in order to perform his or her duties to the fullest possible extent. In this way, operational material that could be ofuse to an enemy would be kept to a minimum, in case of capture - remember, RMP operated (and still do) right up to the forward areas of the battle.

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