Monday 11 September 2006

Farewell, freedom.

It's getting rather pointless, cataloguing the myriad little ways in which the current government are destroying this country — and I should add here that I am not one of those idiots who believe that this wouldn't be happening if the Tories were in government — but here we go again anyway.

Ann Ming is rather pleased with herself. Her daughter was killed back in 1989 and her killer has just today, finally, been convicted. One might think that she has every right to be pleased with herself. Who wouldn't be? Trouble is, the killer, Billy Dunlop, was acquitted, so the reason Ann Ming is so bloody pleased with herself is that her long campaign to overturn the double jeopardy rule — one of the oldest guarantees in the world of the citizen's freedom from persecution by the state — has succeeded.

There's really no doubt that Dunlop is guilty, and he's helpfully pled guilty this time around. But that, right there, is the problem. It's always easy to smear a bit of shit on the big picture when the little picture's so pretty. But think a bit about the world as you know it. Do the police ever pursue the innocent? Do they persist in trying to prosecute them, sometimes harassing them for months or even years? Do the police and the CPS and the Home Office regard certain people as guilty as hell even after not-guilty verdicts?

Here's Lord Goldsmith:

The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 brought about a significant and welcome change in our criminal justice system, by giving the Court of Appeal the power to quash an acquittal and order a retrial for a serious offence when there is new and compelling evidence relevant to the guilt of the acquitted person.

It is in the interests of justice, and of the public, for such retrials to take place. As this verdict shows, if acquitted of a serious crime, offenders will no longer be able to escape responsibility for their act should new and compelling evidence come to light.

This is something that Americans understand and the British, as a rule, don't. The point of the criminal justice system is not merely to find guilty people guilty. It is to protect innocent people from the state. Lord Goldsmith is right: if acquitted of a serious crime, offenders will no longer be able to escape. What he omits to mention is that, if acquitted of a serious crime, no-one will be able to escape. If the police decide that a totally innocent person simply must be guilty — and we all know it happens — no longer will an eventual verdict of "Not guilty" signal the end of that person's ordeal. No, as of now, they can spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder as the police try again, and again, and again.

But what, you might be asking, about this "new and compelling evidence" rule? Well, as far as I can see, this gives the police an incentive to suppress at least one piece of evidence per case. As long as there's one thing that they don't bring out in court, they can always turn it in after their case collapses, and try again.

Mrs Ming is reported to have said that she is glad not only to have brought her daughter's killer to justice but also to have left a lasting legacy. Indeed she has, the selfish bloody idiot.

No comments: