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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 10:42 GMT
Do you have faith in British justice?
Raphael Rowe, one of the M25 Three who was freed last year after 12 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, has urged the government to do more to prevent miscarriages of justice.
In the past 15 years a number of miscarriages of justice have come to light, including the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Bridgewater Four.
As a result the Police And Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) in was introduced in the mid 1980s giving police clear rules to work by when arresting, interviewing and charging suspects. In 1997 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) was set up to give those claiming they were victims of a miscarriage of justice an independent means of appeal.
But a poll commissioned by News Online suggested that more than half of respondents had "lost faith" in the criminal justice system.
Should more be done to make sure innocent people are not wrongly convicted? Should there be changes - such as juries having to justify their verdicts in writing?
This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your comments are posted below.
I don't trust the jury system. It's so traditional that we think of it as the best system, but it's a well-known psychological effect that group decisions are always biased toward the views of most assertive. Neither do I trust the average person's ability to assess a case logically, to understand what is and isn't a valid argument or to think without prejudices. Perhaps jury discussions should have an impartial 'moderator'?
For starters the trial by jury system should be upheld at all costs. People in the UK have already lost their right to remain silent. And although there should always be some sympathy for victims of crime, it should be remembered that the state should never abdicate its authority to the victims in deciding suitable punishment for those found guilty by their peers.
The British legal system is not perfect and every attempt should be made to prevent people from being convicted of crimes that they did not commit. The system does at least try to get it right, however, and tries to correct past mistakes.
Cases take far too long to come to court and when they do the defence solicitors can ask for the trial to be postponed again and again - wasting everyone's time and the tax payers money. When someone who pleads not guilty is then found to be guilty, why aren't they - and their friends who lie to protect them - then prosecuted for perjury?
Gaby Vanhegan, UK
I have to admit that I have faith in British justice but the fact that British justice does not exist makes my statement meaningless! If your house is burgled and the burglar is caught, in the court you, the hard-working house-owner, are considered to be guilty until you can prove your own innocence! The criminals have all the powers and sit like kings while the innocent victims are persecuted by the very law designed in the first place to protect them!
I have no faith whatsoever in our legal system or the police. A few years ago I was on business in Warwick and my company car was broken into and a pair of shoes which I had bought that morning were stolen. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to inform the shop were I bought them and sure enough the criminals tried to take them back for a refund and the criminals were apprehended.
1) A Presumption of Innocence: The cornerstone of British jurisprudence is alien to Europeans and most of the non-English speaking world. We want to give this up?
2) Trial by a Jury of one's Peers: Although government is undermining this basic British right (to make us more "European", no doubt), do we really want the social elite (e.g. judges) deciding the fate of us, the common folk?
3) Miscarriages of Justice: As awful as even one is, at least we're hearing about them! Is one to assume that it's all just perfect in Europe? Scary.
As flawed as the British justice system may be, I can't think of a better one.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
I am big advocate of local courts run by local people. Less paper work and tougher justice. We must all remember that the Law is there to protect us. If it fails to work then we should simply forget about it and implement a new system of law and order in our own communities. Laws are only current opinion written down. We know that they don't work so we should rip them up.
I have no faith in the British legal system. I do have faith in the Police and feel that they are at the mercy of unrepresentative, inconsistent courts just like the rest of us. British judges seem to be very reluctant to punish people for serious and anti-social crimes, like drunk drivers who kill, but more than happy to throw the book at relatively minor financial crimes, like jailing single mothers who don't pay their TV licence. Unfortunately too many "professionals" involved in Law are egotists who treat the whole thing as a game in which they can earn huge amounts of cash.
Perhaps we should learn from the French who appoint a magistrate to work with the police in the investigation of serious crime. This ensures the police report to an independent person thus providing safeguards for those under investigation and also for the police from the malicious
Thank heavens we don't have a death penalty. Bit hard to overturn that once it's been carried out isn't it?
Eddy Weatherill, England
In response to Steve, UK: Some crimes do not deserve any defence - the rape and murder of children for example. But back to the point the fact that the wrong people are punished and that others who are guilty without doubt get off on a technicality prove that the system is flawed. The answer, I don't have one, divine intervention perhaps.
There is no correlation between morality and legality. Neither is there any correlation between justice and 'the Law'. Our leaders are all morally and spiritually bankrupt.
Until I have the absolute right to use whatever force I see fit against an intruder in my house I will continue to have no confidence in our so-called "justice" system.
More surveillance cameras would help
distinguish between the guilty and the
innocent, but that would contravene
civil liberties and human rights.
In this country a person is innocent until proved guilty beyond doubt. If courts would simply keep to that principal 100% of the time, this would not be an issue.
I find it impossible to have confidence in the British judicial system.
The establishment is not willing to face the appalling vista presented by institutionalised racism in the police service and a judiciary which is unwilling to believe that British justice is anything other than fair to all its citizens.
David Kelk, Wales
B. Thompson complains that lawyers just care about winning the case. I have to agree, but also have to concede that that is what they are paid for. Then there is that little thing called 'acting in the client's best interests'. If they didn't just care about winning the case, they'd be liable for professional misconduct charges for acting contrary to their client's interests. But, it's not just defence lawyers that do this, the prosecution are just interested in getting a conviction. Why don't we criticise them?
As a side thought, in a decent democratic society, everyone is entitled to a defence.
Although I still respect police, I have nothing but contempt for the judicial system in this country. A few years ago I witnessed an assault on a friend of mine and gladly gave a statement to the police to that effect. Nearly two years later, when I'd forgotten about the whole thing, I get dragged to court to give evidence against my friend's attacker.
I found that instead of the defendant being on trial - a local thug, well known to the police and with an endless criminal record - it was me who was on trial. The defendant was protected by his defence lawyer while I was protected by no one. I was at the mercy of his lawyer and he humiliated me on that stand. Professional lawyers - they don't deserve the title. They just care about winning their case, and they'll take the side of whoever is writing the biggest cheque or will further their careers the most. That is what is fundamentally wrong with the legal system.
I will never ever again co-operate in any way with the police, legal system, or any authorities. That is a sad and damning indictment against our ineffective legal system.
What worries me about the system is that someone who, after conviction, still insists on their innocence cannot be considered for parole.
Currently, it is part of a convict's rehabilitation that parole is only an option once they admit their guilt.
We know, and therefore have to accept, that mistakes can be made.
This arrogant attitude of the state towards parole must be changed.
Is it any wonder that confidence is low whilst there are police officers still serving who have been prepared to frame people to get a conviction in the past, our jury system excludes people with any brains and the legal profession remains a law unto itself?
01 Feb 01 | UK
Action urged over miscarriages of justice
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