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MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO CONVICT ON WORD ALONE

Comment 12th July 2010

The government must do whatever is necessary to protect the falsely accused (you could be one one day) by making it impossible to convict an innocent person just because a jury could be convinced by the prosecution despite no evidence except someone's word being available. This is a nightmare currently playing out in our courts today and you only need to go along to any crown court today and you will see people being convicted simply on someone's word. If you think this is some made up notion log onto the SAFARI website (along with all the other 'innocent' websites and see for yourself). http://safari-uk.org

We constantly hear how the British justice system is one of the best in the world and a role model on which other systems are based, but this is a lie. In comparison the French and American models are by far better and have fewer miscarriages of justice than does our system. They also don't need an organisation like the Criminal Cases Review Commission which proves why there systems are better.

The previous Labour government went out of its way to reduce the justice available to individuals, seeming almost hell bent on ignoring 'justice for all' and achieving 'convictions at any cost', and all with the goal of 'justice for victims'. The true justice would be to ensure the guilty went to prison whilst the innocent were vindicated. Under the current system, this is a mockery as any person can be found guilty based on someone's word, you do not need proof or evidence. It is that easy to ruin someone's life.

Those that do end up in prison have one hell of a time trying to clear their names, which if by some miracle they manage to do, the damage is already done, i.e. they lose their job, family, house etc. It is far harder to reverse the decision once it is made, and under the current appeals process what actually constitutes grounds for appeal are usually ignored.This is a frightening way for our country to proceed. There is no longer an innocent until proved guilty culture but an ongoing presumption of guilt from the moment someone is charged, in which every step of the way a defendant is forced to prove his innocence, even though this should be the prosecution or accuser's job.

Why does this matter?

The previous government demonstrated a complate lack of knowledge regarding the criminal justice system, even though they were in charge of it! Their argument was that there were safeguards in place for the wrongly accused, such as charging those who make false allegations – this is like finding a precious diamond in the street – it never happens. When false allegations are made, CPS who have worked the case are most reluctant to charge their star witnesses. The other so-called safeguards include, proving a case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt, (again an extremely subjective principle), but then they amazingly allow someone to utter false words in order to convict; the prosecution's ongoing duty to disclose unused material, but again this doesn't often happen (and yet convictions are not overturned because of it) and the right to appeal to a higher court for a review of the conviction, (a nightmare in itself), which  of itself means a defendant can apply for leave to appeal but without grounds (a complex tangle of arguments of what constitutes grounds), they cannot appeal. Claiming innocence is not a ground for appeal, even though it should be. So where is the justice in all of this?

We need to reclaim the 'innocent until proved guilty' ethos if we are to have confidence in the criminal justice system, which currently beggars belief.  It is vital we have 'justice for all' not just the victims, who are not served by sending innocent people to prison, when later those same guilty people have their convictions quashed because of mistakes and serious flaws that exist in the current system.

The present system needs reforming and now is the time to do it. That reform must not be at defendant's expense or by restricting their rights to a full and fair hearing, or restricting their access to justice, including an appeal. It's bad enough that the golden 'right to silence' has gone forever without infringing anymore rights.  It's all very well saying prison is the best place for criminals but what about those who have been convicted because someone has made a false allegation or that that person is believed by the jury because of what they say or rather how the prosecution put the case forward, convincingly. The government must put an end to convictions by word only. Then perhaps the prison population might fall too, along with all the costs involved, which means savings across the criminal justice system as well.

I don't believe the coalition government will do any of the above, but if they are serious, perhaps they and we all should dread and fear the day we become the accused as it is that easy to convict someone under the current system.

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