Tuesday, 19 June 2007


If government is not prepared to invest adequately in tackling the causes of crime, isn't it morally bound to invest properly in tackling the consequences of crime? Just a thought....

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Pre-charge publicity

Last week, as I'm sure everyone knows by now, Michael Barrymore was arrested by police investigating the death six years ago of Stuart Lubbock. Two other men were arrested at the same time, but Barrymore's is the name that made the story 'news' and which has stuck in the public memory. No matter that a couple of days later two were released without charge, although still on police bail. Similarly in the 'cash for honours' case Lord Levy's name has been splashed across the headlines in the press and on television each time he is required to present himself to the police.

It is sometimes argued that this type of publicity impacts on these individuals' prospect of a fair trial, should a decision to prosecute ever be taken. I suspect that it does not, but another aspect concerns me. There is a popular if unreliable belief among the British people that 'there is no smoke without fire'. Even if no charges are ever laid, these two people and countless others will find their lives tainted by this publicity.

I have spent a great deal of time in Spain over the past twenty odd years. They handle things differently there. The arrest of suspects is reported just as it would be here. However, names are never used in advance of charges being laid. In the Spanish press you would read that a male MB (age) had been arrested in connection with investigations into the death of Stuart Lubbock, or that ML (age) had been arrested and interviewed in connection with the cash for honours investigation. To the vast majority of readers these initials would have no meaning, especially in the majority of cases where the suspect would be unknown outside their immediate community. Nevertheless the public interest - that police were pursuing a particular line of inquiry - is fully met.

If we accept that everyone is innocent until proved guilty, then it is surely appropriate that no one should be named as a suspect at least until they have been charged?

Saturday, 9 June 2007

What is the solution?

I’ve not posted for a while, partly because I’ve been quite busy but mainly because the news coming out of the Home Office is just more of the same. For anyone who wants to know my thinking on extended periods of detention without charge, I covered it in detail on 15th April
Something else which has been concerning me lately is the question of how we deal effectively with the offence of domestic violence. In fact, surprisingly, there is no such offence on the statute book. Violence towards spouses, partners and ex-partners or other family members is charged, according to its severity as common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or wounding. Only within the last couple of years has it been ruled by the Court of Appeal that a domestic setting is a serious aggravating factor, on the basis that everyone has a right to feel safe in their own home.

For years I was unhappy with the CPS charging policy, which was that the testimony of the victim was crucial if a case was to be brought to court; if the victim retracted or did not want to press charges, then no one was called to account. The consequence was often a succession of defendants on a Saturday morning admitting that their behaviour the previous night had been unacceptable and agreeing to be bound over to keep the peace.

Two or three years ago, however, CPS policy changed in the direction I had been hoping, and where there was additional evidence - the police were instructed to collect such evidence whenever possible - a case would go ahead even if the victim was reluctant.

In all honesty, it hasn’t really helped very much. I’ve sat on a number of DV trials recently where one of two defences is put forward; a straightforward denial of the alleged assault or an admission that blows were struck, but in self-defence, the ‘victim’ being the true aggressor. When the ‘victim’ gives oral evidence which contradicts her original statement to the police, or suffers a catastrophic memory loss as to what happened on the night in question, then it matters not that we suspect that the CPS account is a true one, we have to go further than that; we have to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that it is true, and the contradictory testimony of the ‘victim’ almost always prevents that since we can only speculate as to why her account has changed and which version might be the true one. At its most basic: Is she lying now out of fear or did she lie at the time out of malice?

So, I’ve got the changes I wanted, but not the result. Where we can go from here I don’t know.