Thursday, 14 May 2009

Justice Should Be Neither A Marathon, Nor A Sprint…

Well, here’s a pretty appalling case of following the letter of the law, while missing the whole point of the law by a country mile:
A man jailed for life after being convicted of poisoning and raping a vulnerable woman has been freed - because his trial was too long.

Appeal Court judges ruled its six-month length had made it very difficult for the jury trying Kevin O'Dowd to 'keep its eye on the ball'.
That’s a hell of a big assumption there….
'Each member of the court is regrettably driven to the conclusion that the verdicts of the jury are not safe and therefore cannot stand,' said Mr Justice Beatson yesterday.

'For a trial involving just one defendant and the relatively simple issues that the jury had to decide to have lasted for this length of time, with the consequent vast cost to the public, is not only disproportionate but a serious blot on the administration of justice.

'Many of the delays could be justified individually, but viewed collectively, it is entirely unacceptable for the case to have taken anything like this length of time.'
So, because the trial has passed a checkpoint for ‘length of time’ (who decides this? Is there a sliding scale for differing types of trials? A chart? A table?), a purely static target having nothing to do with the quality of the trial, it is thrown out.

And, because the Crown has opted not to proceed with a retrial, the defendant goes free.

So, let’s see who is responsible for this ‘unacceptable delay’, shall we?
The trial, which lasted 42 days, was interrupted by Christmas, New Year and Easter holidays - but Mr Justice Beatson said that was the tip of the iceberg.

There were concerns over O'Dowd's health - he needed 'frequent short breaks' for medication and had to be admitted to hospital during his cross-examination. Further delay was caused by his decision to sack and replace his barrister in the midst of the trial.

O'Dowd's instruction that no point was to be conceded also meant that 'the Crown was required to prove matters which, in many trials, would have been uncontentious or admitted'.

The most serious delay in the trial was caused by the need for an in-depth investigation of three allegations of rape O'Dowd had faced 22 and 17 years earlier and which were introduced by the Crown as evidence of his bad character.
In other words, almost all of the ‘delays’ in this trail were created either by the defendant himself or by the legal system grossly overcompensating in order to hold itself up as scrupulously fair to the defendant. And as a result, he goes free and the judges get to congratulate themselves once again on how humane and fair our justice system is.

Who has been forgotten in all this? Oh, yeah. The victim. Anyone remember her?

You have to wonder just who the justice system is run for anymore, don’t you?


Rob said...

Hmm, am I being cynical in thinking that lots more defendants will soon be trying exactly the same tricks?

The State - defending criminals, all of the time.

JuliaM said...

"Hmm, am I being cynical in thinking that lots more defendants will soon be trying exactly the same tricks?"

If they don't, I'm sure their solicitors will!

Still, I'm sure those stalwart defenders of womankind, Vera Baird QC and Harriet Harperson, will leap to the victim's defence and insist these (no doubt male) judges rethink it.

Won't they?

Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

My old man got landed with the worst Jury service ever. Fifteen month trial. Fourteen defendants, all - I kid you not - of 'Sicilian extraction'.

Money laundering, extortion etc. - massively complicated stuff. But no one would have ever suggested dropping it because a long trial would be mean to the Mafiosi.

We're so screwed.