Saturday, February 11, 2012
The abandonment of the double jeopardy rule is just one aspect of a trend that has been evident to all who give a damn about justice since the 1980's, a trend to make it easier to convict people. Any people; genuine guilt would be nice but is not a necessity.
As I look back at some of these changes, I cannot help but wonder how they must seem to readers in faraway places, such as the United States; places where putting restraints on the power of the government are viewed rather more seriously than in the UK.
Where else but in the UK are the police so lazy that they objected to a suspect's right to silence? Now, a refusal to answer questions can be used to "draw adverse inferences" before a jury. I take a pretty strict view on this - if you want to prove a charge against me, get off your backside and find the evidence. Why the hell should suspects be forced to make the State's case?
Where else but the UK can we seriously listen to the police whining that it is too difficult for them to give the Defence a copy of all their evidence? That happened, and now it is the police themselves who decide what material to give to the Defence. Worse, they only do this after the Defence has sent them a copy of the accused's defence.
In what other nation that claims adherence to the rule of law can we institute secret courts where neither the accused nor his lawyers can know the evidence against them?
In what other common-law jurisdiction can the accused be barred from facing his accuser, who can even hide behind a pseudonym and a black screen in court?
And what other Western nation stomach the fact that at any moment, for no reason whatever, you can be stopped on the street and searched by the police?
What other nation could even contemplate instituting these measures and still unblushingly make a claim to be a nation of laws?
And just in case this panoply of measures fails to convict, the State can always wave an accused’s previous convictions before a jury.
We have rarely taken Justice seriously in this country. The home of Magna Carta is seemingly unable to place any significant restraints on the ability of the State to prosecute. And the thin line between prosecution and persecution grows ever more threadbare.
Of course, you will doubtless persuade yourself that these things are irrelevant, they only apply to "bad" people. Surely you could never, ever find yourself being the focus of police attention? I sincerely hope that you are. Not out of any malicious desire, but because only then will you begin to see the dangerous imbalances in both State power and the criminal justice system. Because I have never met anyone who has come away from even the most fleeting contact with that system who hasn't felt that their illusions have been shattered.
And the next time you hear someone say that it is the defendant who has all the rights, that the criminal justice system is unbalanced in favour of criminals, try to pause that part of your brain that is lured by populist slogans and re-read the above. Then ask yourself if you would feel comfortable if a vanload of police turned up on your doorstep.
Labels: criminal justice