Changing the rules*

Can I refuse to be sniffed by a police dog? Why won't my juror wife talk to me any more? Let the <em

A few days ago, I got the Tube to work and found my regular stop crawling with drugs officers and sniffer dogs. As my flatmate’s not averse to the odd joint, I began

to feel quite prickly. The dogs turned out to be more interested in someone else’s pizza box than in me – but could I have refused to be smelled?

Robert Jacobs, London

The Association of Chief Police Officers has long asserted that the simple use of a sniffer dog does not amount to a "search" - which would be illegal unless based on reasonable grounds - and there is no law directly on the point. Where the sniffing is targeted, however, the situation is different. According to Acpo's own guidelines: "People may not be funnelled or individuals requested to change their direction in order to facilitate the dogs' deployment as this may constitute a search."

The problem you face is that a reluctance to co-operate is often treated as reasonable grounds for a shakedown. An incident last December in Camden, north London, involving a 41-year-old black man, Andrew Mackintosh, is a case in point. When he objected to being sniffed, because he felt the police were singling him out for his skin colour, they forcibly searched him. After finding nothing, they justified their action by asserting that Mackintosh had "avoided the police drugs dog and refused to give reason, became very argumentative with police when spoken to, refused to be searched".

Such logic, elliptical though it is, serves as a reminder that any attempt to question the authority of a dog squad will have to be explained with care. You might point out, perhaps, that the most comprehensive study into canine drug detection, undertaken for the New South Wales ombudsman in Australia in 2004, found that three-quarters of positive indications were wrong. You could directly challenge the abilities of the dogs at the Tube station - via their handlers - by asking to see their training records. Advise the officers in addition that if they search you, you will sue them for assault and battery.

I cannot guarantee they will be supportive. Body odour is a personal matter, however - and even if monitoring it might be justified, it is the vigilance of people like you that keeps the nostrils of the state under control.

My wife recently served on a jury, and is still quite upset about it. Her fellow jurors apparently overruled her in one of their verdicts, but she won’t talk about it because that would be “illegal”. I feel rather helpless. She’s never kept anything from me before. Is the law really that insensitive?

A troubled husband, Whitby

Yes. You are already in contempt for asking your wife about her deliberations, and she would have committed a criminal offence had she replied. Courts respect the sanctity of the jury room over matrimonial candour every time.

In order to resume satisfactory oral relations with your wife, you must therefore proceed with sensitivity to the law's needs. I recommend that you set aside an evening to share your anxieties. You can vocalise your own concerns, of course, but a recent Court of Appeal decision means that she must seal hers in an envelope. It can then be forwarded by you to a court bailiff.

I appreciate that the value of this exercise may not be immediately apparent. Strictly speaking, it might not, indeed, exist at all. Facilitating communication with the court has the potential, however, to bridge the awkward gap between personal and political that has opened up in your marriage. And even if it fails fully to reconcile you as a couple, it can only deepen your respect for each other as citizens.

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a history from Socrates to O J Simpson" (Harper Perennial, 2006). Send your civil liberties and human-rights dilemmas to: Changing the Rules, New Statesman, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU. This column appears fortnightly

Sadakat Kadri is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a writer. His most recent book is The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, and he is a past winner of the Spectator/Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: The reckoning