11 March 2006

Justice System Eroding

It was an interesting point raised by Nigel in my diary on reasons why the police target people - sometimes the wrong person!

As we all know recent changes and proposals for change by the Government to the Criminal Justice system have caused serious concerns. The new anti-terrorist laws, the abolition of the right to trial by jury amongst some of these changes and now, following the report by Lord Carter on the 'Procurement of Criminal Defence Services, market based Reform' these concerns will grow even more.

The report looks for ways to encourage early disposal of cases! It suggests just having one duty solicitor at the police station and the client, or person in custody, will have no choice in the matter. 'Like it or lump it' scenario. If the defendant insists on their own choice of solicitor, then they would have to pay privately for this service. This is a very dangerous practice.

From my experience my situation went terribly pear shaped because I had a local solicitor who had never previously dealt with a murder case before and was the duty solicitor. I was trusting at that time. After all I was innocent and 'had nothing to fear' because I even (foolishly) trusted the police! I would now, from experience, recommend anyone in such a position to appoint a solicitor from out of the area, not the duty solicitor who often can work far too closely with the police in question.

Terrible events do happen and rightly so individuals need to be caught and prosecuted. But, when someone is innocent then every precaution has to be taken and we cannot allow standards to drop or a right and proper defence to be offered.

Costing should not be in the equation when dealing with people's lives and their freedom. Too many aspects of our justice system are being eroded and I fear at a very great cost to future miscarriages of justice!

12 Comments:

Anonymous Nigel said...

Depressing. It makes me think of Sister Helen Prejean's book "Dead Man Walking", in which she cites cases of defendants in capital cases in her native Louisiana who are assigned lawyers by the court (as per the US Constitution's Fifth Amendment) who didn't even specialise in Criminal Law, and even Lawyers who were either pie-eyed at the trial, or asleep, or both! There'd even been cases of Lawyers who'd never even met the defendant until 15 minutes before the trial (and we're talking about somebody's life here!) was due to begin!

Even allowing for the absence (thank God!) of the death penalty in this country, a justice system that doesn't protect the innocent as well as convict the truly guilty degenerates into a mere conviction machine.

As I see it, the more abuses there are seen to be in the system, the more reform becomes inevitable in the long run. I'm thinking (amongst other things) on the lines of an inquisitorial system of trial, as used on the Continent, where the aim of the game is to get at the truth, not to win the argument against the other side. This system is favoured by Mike Mansfield and other lawyers (possibly Mr. Malone too).

Sadly, the politicians don't seem to think in the long run, do they?

6:21 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

To be honest, public opinion - i.e.votes - has alot to do with many of the issues within the system. Politicians are sometimes not brave enough to acknowledge the faults which are there and thus agree to change. Yes I know Mike Mansfield favours the inquisitorial system, but I also feel our jury system should be retained. More could be done to ensure the jury have a 'voice' yet still allowing anonymity. They could list the reasons why they convicted without identifying themselves and then this would prove useful if an appeal follows. New evidence can come to light or the very reason they convicted can be shown to be flawed. We can get the trial transcript and the Judges summing up etc. but the very people who actually make the decision remain silent! So often it could be shown that some jurors are badgered into following the more dominant memebers of the jury and by having to document their reasons would help protect against this? Maybe we would also see that the jury were indeed influenced by media reporting which can sometimes be very prejudicial pre and during trial.

9:59 am  
Blogger Yonner said...

Sue Said:
We can get the trial transcript and the Judges summing up etc. but the very people who actually make the decision remain silent!

Interesting point. In a system which is supposed to be public and largely transparent, it is interesting that neither the Jury's deliberations or their reasons for their decision are ever made public.

10:50 am  
Blogger Susan said...

In reply to Yonner. We do need more transparency for sure. Obviously jury memebers must be protected, but I am sure a system could be worked out where the bases for their decision could be logged and given to future defence teams when working towards an appeal. Maybe this would disclose the difficulties some jurors have in understanding expert evidence and even expose how they are influenced by such evidence, which as we have seen can go beyond the remit of the particular expert! (Meadow's Law).

12:20 pm  
Anonymous Nigel said...

I believe that Juries are also susceptible to what's known as "group think", or a tendency to go with the general flow.

I would suggest that either tape recordings or minutes of the deliberations could be taken, with, as you suggest Susan, each Juror being required to write an account in his or her own words of the reasons for the verdict. This would be done by each Juror in some kind of cubicle or carrell.

2:01 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

Yes, it would have to be each individual juror privately, but anonymously, documenting their opinion and reasons in order to prevent them being badgered into a particular decision.

2:12 pm  
Blogger Yonner said...

Nigel:
each Juror being required to write an account in his or her own words of the reasons for the verdict

That would provide a great insight. Anonymity would be important of course. But yes, imagine if we had access to the Jury's reason for finding Susan guilty. Perhaps they were all convinced by the blood on the wall issue which of course has since been found to be quite dubious evidence (and that's putting it lightly).

So if Susan was convicted because of the blood and it was later found to be grease, for example, then that would be very clear, concrete grounds for an appeal or a straight acquital.

I'm talking out of my depth but yes, it would be good to know why jury's convict people.

5:00 pm  
Anonymous Nigel said...

It's a mini "think tank" that we have here on your Blog, Susan. Here's hoping that what we're saying about the system and its faults is being passed on.

8:16 am  
Blogger Susan said...

Debate is such a good tool and I also hope that the powers that be may read what we are all saying and take note! Thank you for your comments.

3:42 pm  
Blogger Alan said...

Susan said : I'm thinking (amongst other things) on the lines of an inquisitorial system of trial, as used on the Continent, where the aim of the game is to get at the truth, not to win the argument against the other side. This system is favoured by Mike Mansfield and other lawyers (possibly Mr. Malone too).

I didn't realize that Michael Mansfield favoured the inquisitorial system, as does the journalist, Ludovic Kennedy (see his book 36 murders ...). In France, where I normally live, there is a lot of debate at the moment following the Outreau case, and it is being said that maybe France should switch to the adversarial system in order to solve its miscarriage of justice problem. I do not know which is the better system, but I think that, unfortunately, the problem has perhaps more to do with people whose motivation is not really to try to get at the truth (as I think Susan referred to.

4:16 pm  
Blogger janetngoodwin said...

Perhaps Alan has highlighted a depressing point. A justice system is only as good as the people administering it. So even if you have the 'best' system, but the police are corrupt and solicitors inept, it might as well be the worst one. Perhaps greater accountability would help.

10:20 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

It is vital as Janet points out to have accountability in any system. When it can and has been proven that malpractice has taken place, then those identified should be brought to task. Until this happens corruption will continue and sadly we will see even more miscarriages of justice. There are systems in place to allow corrupt police officers to either take long term sick leave or early retirement which then renders them 'untouchable'.

10:33 am  

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