May 21 2024
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When the jury fails, the whole criminal justice system fails

When the jury fails, the whole criminal justice system fails

Photo by Andy Aitchison, www.prisonimage.org
Photo by Andy Aitchison, www.prisonimage.org


Prison Andy Aitchison

Prison image, Andy Aitchison

My husband, John, tells everybody that our story was love at first sight. I’m not so sure about that. I just thought his heart was in the right place. When I met John in Hong Kong, I was a naïve teenager and was intrigued by this man from a faraway kingdom called Great Britain. There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. Not only that, but there was a time when the British judiciary system was widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

  • This article was originally published on Inside Justice’s website (here). Inside Justice investigates miscarriages of justice – and is a is a division of Inside Time – led by Louise Shorter

When John and I arrived at Heathrow Airport in the summer of 2013 (ironically to celebrate our 3oth wedding anniversary), John was arrested at the airport on suspicion of sexual abuse — during a time between 1979 and 1980 — against a boy who was under 16 years. Later on, in the indictment, the time period morphed to from July 1983 to July 1984 (probably after John told the police that he had not been in UK since May 1980 until March 1983). Then, at the very end of the trial, the time period once again changed — between March 1983 and 31 December 1984 (after establishing that there was only a very short period of time we lived at the so-called crime scene).

The man who pressed charges claimed initially that John had sexually abused him 20 times, that number changed to two times in his final statement. But never mind whether the allegation was two times or 20 times, or that the age of the alleged victim changed from 11 to 15 going to 16; the jury is often very forgiving towards sexually abused victims, especially in historical cases. In the judge’s summing up, he quoted the accuser: ‘I messed up my statements…’ and moreover that he’d got the story back to front.

Weak and contradictory
After listening to the accuser’s weak and contradictory testimony, including when, how, and where the alleged abuse took place, John’s QC asked the judge to throw out the case. The judge himself had declared the accuser’s testimony unreliable. However, the judge refused the QC’s request and concluded that ‘we should trust the jury system which has a long history’ and ‘let us leave it to the jury’ to do their job. How about doing your job, Mr Judge? John’s case, full of the accuser’s own errors, should never have gone to the jury!

In October 2015, after a long wait of 14 months, with John having served over a year in jail for an offence he could not have committed, finally we were about to learn whether leave would be granted for the Court of Appeal to hear John’s appeal to overturn his conviction. In turning down John’s application, the judge at the Court of Appeal said it was sufficient that the accuser said ‘he was sure that it had happened and the other inconsistencies were consistent with someone in their mid-40s trying to remember detail from 30 years ago….’.

If it’s sufficient that the accuser said it happened, why bother with any judiciary procedures of trial and appeal? Why not simply lock away all defendants? If the supposed victims are not sure the abuse happened, the police and the CPS will surely not press charges. Right?

Of John’s five co-defendants, Jerry was the only one found not guilty of both counts of the charges, one of which was brought against him by the same accuser, who on this occasion gave surprisingly consistent accounts (despite the fact that we are still talking about the same accuser in his mid-40s trying to remember details from 30 years ago). Another consistency achieved by the accuser is that he remembers the last name of all other co-defendants except John.

Now, what kind of scale does the court give the jury to weigh the consistency in Jerry’s case against the inconsistencies of other allegations by the same accuser to lead to the conclusion that the jury reached a verdict beyond reasonable doubt?

When the very essence of the jury system (facts based on evidence and allegations proved beyond reasonable doubt) is no longer indispensable, the foundation on which that system is founded crumbles. One of the pillars that this once great and glorious British Empire stood on is now collapsing, and the ground sinks beneath us.

Who are the guilty ones? Not merely the so-called victims who made up false allegations, but the very people in whom we place our trust: the police, the CPS, the judges, the jury, and the system itself. They are all failing us.