Bath Literature Festival: Rights lawyer asks - just how much doubt is reasonable?

 

How do you quantify "reasonable doubt"? And how much doubt is enough to stop you sending a fellow human to prison or execution? There were weird scenes in Bath's historic Guildhall when the maverick human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, asking these questions, turned the banqueting hall into a court of law and the audience into a quaking jury.

The jury in the Vicky Pryce trial was condemned by many as stupid for asking the judge if they could reach a verdict based on speculation without evidence, but he was prepared to defend them. "They were asking for a ruling about reaching a verdict 'beyond reasonable doubt' and they were right to speculate. After all, how much do we think is reasonable doubt?" Whereupon he pushed a microphone in the faces of alarmed festival-goers and demanded they put a figure on it, on pain of "being held in contempt – by me!" Two said "100 per cent," one said 99, another said 98. "I put the question to judges in Louisiana," Stafford-Smith said. "They said about 80-ish."

His point was that, if there's a smidgen of doubt that an accused person isn't guilty, he shouldn't be condemned. For 26 years Stafford-Smith has been fighting a miscarriage of justice in Florida, where a British businessman named Kris Maharaj was arrested for shooting a father and son in a hotel room. A witness testified that he'd seen the shooting, and passed a polygraph test. Maharaj's fingerprints were found in the room. It was proved that he owed the dead men money and that he'd recently bought a gun. A witness said he'd asked him to supply an alibi.

So, said Stafford-Smith, is he guilty or innocent? Most of the audience raised their hands. The defence lawyer on stage spent the next 55 minutes explaining why they were presumptuous, wrong and rather dim to reach such a conclusion. Stafford-Smith strides the stage with awesome command, bullies and harangues his audience, who shifted uncomfortably as he demanded to know their opinion, demanded they role-play jurors and accused, and insisted they would be locked in until they promised to help him in his campaign. By the end, they felt they'd much rather have this rambunctious brief on their side than not.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup