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TOPIC: Presumed Guilty

Presumed Guilty 1 Year ago  
Barrister Blogger Matthew Scott has given Simon Warr’s “Presumed Guilty” book a favourable review.

But the review was very disturbing in one respect, leaving me wondering how anyone ever leaves a trial without being found guilty: the list of fully legal attritions against defendants has grown enormous:

Unfortunately, the tide is not running in favour of those who worry about wrongful convictions. Over the last forty years numerous changes in criminal evidence and procedure have been introduced, and (with the notable and very important exception of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), almost all of them have favoured the prosecution. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list but here, in no particular order, goes:

Introduction of majority verdicts, abolition of defence right to challenge jurors without cause, abolition of unsworn statements from the dock, introduction of prosecution right to comment on no-comment interviews, abolition of rule that similar fact evidence should show “striking similarity”, introduction of evidence of bad character or propensity, restriction on duty of prosecution to disclose all relevant material, introduction of duty to serve defence statement, restriction of judge’s ability to stop cases proceeding after the passage of long periods of time, introduction of “special measures” (screens, pre-recorded evidence etc) for prosecution witnesses (but not defendants), abolition of defence right to anonymity in sexual cases, restrictions on right to cross-examine on previous sexual history, restrictions on cross-examination of “vulnerable” witnesses, restrictions on legal aid eligibility, restrictions on defence costs recoverable after acquittal;

I could go on. Oh alright then, I will:

Introduction of glass cages to replace old fashioned “open” docks, abolition of corroboration rule in sexual allegations, introduction of the right to draw “adverse inferences” from a defendant’s silence in court, tightening of the law of “consent” in sexual cases, abolition of rule against double jeopardy, introduction of prosecution right to appeal against “terminatory rulings”, introduction of prosecution right to appeal against unduly lenient sentences, abolition of right of Court of Appeal to quash “unsatisfactory” convictions.

Taken individually there was a case for many of these changes; taken together, and especially when applied to historic sexual allegations in an age of internet connectivity, there is every reason to believe that the cumulative effect has been to convict and imprison more innocent people.

Loved the quote from Nietzsche in the context of the Twittermob who had already decided Mr Warr was guilty upon his being accused and were wishing him torture and execution: “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is strong.”
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