Thursday, 2 February 2012

Failing Justice?

'Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.' That was the thought of English jurist, judge and politician William Blackstone. It is quite right that the Crown have to prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt. One of the problems in our society is that reasonable has now stretched to any outlandish tale that despite its unlikelihood might possibly be feasible.

What this means is that hundreds of guilty people are walking away free and victims are not getting the justice they deserve. Why is it that the public when they are victims can see that offenders tales are pure bunkum but when you put them on a jury they become gullible putty in the hands of defence lawyers?

Here are brief examples of recent cases in my area where the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have decided that there is insufficient evidence to have any realistic chance of  a successful prosecution.

1. A van containing two men stops and the passenger gets out and threatens a pedestrian with a knife. The offender steals the pedestrians wallet and telephone and then gets back in the van, which drives away.  A witness sees the offence and takes the vans registration number. The police trace the van an hour later and arrest the driver. There is no sign of the passenger. In interview the driver states that his passenger asked him to stop so he could speak to a friend. He stated he had no idea that the passenger had robbed anyone. He refused to name the passenger. CPS decided there is insufficient evidence to prosecute.

2. A 16 year old youth gets off a bus. Nearby are a group of about 8 young men. The youth attempts to walk past the group but they surround him. He is punched to the ground and repeatedly kicked causing cuts and bruising. The victim knows one of the group by name, a 20 year old man who has 15 previous convictions, including violence. The victim cannot state that the named suspect was one whose fist or boot assaulted him. The suspect is arrested. He admits being one of the group. He states that he did not assault the youth nor did he see any of the group assault the youth. He will not name any of the group of suspects. Insufficient evidence to prosecute.

3. A car is stolen and then later abandoned. It is forensically examined and a thumb print of a suspect is found on the rear view mirror. The suspect is arrested. He initially makes no comment and then following disclosure of the thumb print he states that he was given a lift in the car by a friend. He states he had no idea that the car was stolen. He did not drive the vehicle. He may have touched the rear view mirror as he had some dirt in his eye. He refused to name the driver. Insufficient evidence to charge.

Police officers reading this will not be at all surprised and will have hundreds of similar stories to tell.

The police and the rest of the criminal justice system are vilified for failing to detect these crimes, failing victims and justice. We need to review the law to ensure that more offenders face justice for their crimes. Is it not time that we consider changing the law so that an inference of guilt should be made against those that refuse to support justice by failing to name suspects or offenders?


  1. Not right to impugn juries and judges for the decisions of prosecutors as in your three examples. Why not charge them with being an accessory? Even if they won't name the main offender surely they are guilty of that.

    Blame CPS. Don't blame juries. Don't blame "reasonable doubt" when the jury hasn't had a chance to judge.

  2. That is the whole point Ben. In each case the suspect is claiming to be an innocent party. The CPS have decided that there is no point putting them in front of a jury as there is no realistic chance of a jury convicting them of anything, including accessory, aiding, abetting or inciting.
    I am not blaming the CPS, although I do think more cases should be put before the courts.
    Bearing in mind that the CPS won't take a case to trial unless they think it is a 'stone bonker.' Nonetheless, 36% of cases are found not guilty. The fact is that juries are difficult to convince after the defence have mudied the waters. In the three examples, the CPS felt the jury would believe them or have sufficient doubt as not to convict.
    Is it right, for example, that the prosecution have to withold information from the jury? In the case of the car thief suspect, he has two seven convictions, two for stealing cars. The jury are not allowed to know this, of course.

  3. 'Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.' Yeees.

    Uplifting as it is to be greeted by this admiration for a lawyer and politician on a police blog, Blackstone's quote was infamously modified by police to read 'Better ten thick-walleted motorists pay into our coffers than waste money on one penniless criminal.'

  4. As a cop, I much prefer magistrates to juries. Decent magistrates have the experience to see through the obvious lies told by suspects, whereas jurors, as decent people on the whole, judge others by themselves.
    I would replace juries with a panel of three judges for crown court trials who would decide in the same way as magistrates do.
    I'd also encourage cps prosecutors to look at the file before the morning of the trial!

  5. You know, Lex, I almost like you for that confession. Soz no italics here for "like"...or almost...

  6. Apologies for O/T matter:

    The latest 'look like a moron' £3tee shirts, have arrived at Gadget.

    Priced at £15 per item, punters can also assume the authentic feel of a moron.

  7. Yes I saw Gadjo's tee shirts. He reminds me of an NCO I knew oncxe, failed P company. Utter (cont p.9)

  8. I suppose Melvin and Ciaran will be doing their own range of authentic straight-jackets as endorsed by mental health professionals.Usually highly effective but they still manage to post on every police site.

  9. I'm not a fan of nor an apologist for the CPS. However, in each of the instances described I think that there was a bit more work needed to make the case solid.
    In the "Life on Mars" days that bit extra would have been done, by fair means or foul, by the arresting officer who saw the case through to the end. Today that may not be the case.

    Is the problem one of force structures rather than CPS incompetence? Many force are structured so that arresting officers have no responsibility for the case against their prisoner. Prisoner processing teams deal with the initial stage of the investigation. Files are built up by separate departments. The unintended outcome of this way of working is that no one person gets a grip and makes sure that the case is solid. Modern jargon calls this "ownership".
    In my day it was called "pride".

  10. Sgt Albert Hall - I think there is much in what you say. I worked the 'Life on Mars' days when there were no duty solicitors in police stations and no CPS. There was more ownership of crime and pride in dealing with cases. We musn't forget there was also a few dodgy detectives resulting in some wrongful convictions. Hence, we brought about the CPS and PACE ourselves.

    When we got duty solicitors in the police stations they were a different breed to those today. For example, if you had a drug addict burglar in custody it was highly likely the solicitor would advise him to plead guilty and go and get clean in prison and some treatment. We used to drink with the duty solicitors. Nowadays criminal solicitors compete with one another for business on the basis that they are more likely to get you off if they possibly can. They disgust me.

    The police were also charging their own cases. We would have charged all of the cases I highlighted. Some might have got away with it, but some would have been convicted. We didn't have targets, as the CPS do, to reduce unsuccessful cases.

  11. Anonymous 3rd Feb 1443 - I am afraid you have been conned by the Daily Mail. Less than 1% of all police resources are allowed to deal with speeding offences and most of the time they are doing other things.
    Speed cameras are not controlled by the police.
    Money raised in fines for speed goes to the Governement NOT the police. The police have no targets to prosecute for speed.
    For every letter the police get complaining about speed enforcement we get 20 demanding that we do more enforcement. It appears we believe speed limits are irrelevant generally but we don't like people speeding in our nighbourhood.

  12. Regarding motorists, I think that it's a worthwhile comparison to make. If your car is caught on camera speeding and you cannot/will not name the driver, you get the fine and points.
    Nevertheless, keep up the good work gents.

  13. And your enforcement of 'hate'crimes and other such repressive laws.