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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 00:43 GMT
Double jeopardy: What it means

The law applies in England and Wales
The so-called double jeopardy legal tradition in England and Wales means that if you are cleared of a crime, you cannot be tried twice for the same offence.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Jon Silverman outlines the law and its implications.

If the law on double jeopardy was reformed, the case of Billy Dunlop might be re-examined.

Dunlop, from Billingham on Teesside, was twice tried and on the second occasion acquitted, of murdering a pizza delivery girl, Julie Hogg.

Ms Hogg went missing in November 1989 and her body was discovered behind a bath panel in February the following year.

Nine years after his two trials in 1991, Dunlop faced a court again - this time on a charge of perjury.

He confessed to the murder and was jailed for six years.

As the law stands, he cannot be re-tried for murder.

But if Law Commission recommendations are implemented, the confession would almost certainly count as new evidence and could form the basis for a re-trial.

Gangland killings

Another case is that of the notorious East End gangster, Freddie Foreman, who has escaped prosecution after admitting on television that he had committed two murders for the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie.

Foreman was acquitted of the murders of Frank " Mad Axeman " Mitchell and Tommy " Ginger " Marks in the 1960s.

Whether a fresh prosecution of Foreman, now 68, would be considered in the interests of justice is debatable.

A change in the double jeopardy law would certainly result in pressure for a re-examination of a case which created public shock last year.

Michael Weir was convicted of murdering 79-year-old Leonard Harris in North London.

DNA evidence

The crucial evidence was blood found on his gloves and subjected to DNA analysis.

This showed a match with a sample of Weir's blood taken in connection with drugs offences a year earlier.

The Court of Appeal ruled that this was a breach of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and should have been ruled inadmissible.

Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence's death prompted review

As a result, Weir was cleared by the appeal court.

Subsequently, that decision was overturned by the Law Lords but Weir remains free on a technicality.

However, the Law Commission report says that the double jeopardy rule should be waived only where there is compelling new evidence.

The Weir case poses this question: does the same DNA evidence which could have convicted him at his trial count as "new" if it was presented again at a fresh murder trial ?

The appeal court would have to decide.

It was, of course, the Stephen Lawrence murder and the Macpherson Report which prompted the government to ask the Law Commission to look at the double jeopardy rule.

But even if the law is changed, the three Lawrence suspects who were acquitted of murder (after a private prosecution brought by Stephen's parents) can only face the same charge again if there is fresh, reliable and compelling evidence.

It remains a matter of conjecture as to whether that exists.

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See also:

16 May 00 | UK Politics
Debate: Double jeopardy
15 May 00 | UK Politics
Police chief backs 'retrial' plans
02 Jul 99 | UK Politics
Lawrence case prompts legal rethink
14 May 00 | UK Politics
Labour attacks 'knee-jerk' policies
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