Long deliberations show the value of ensuring a full trial

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The Independent Online

The taxpayer could have been spared the estimated £500,000 cost of prosecuting Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr if the court process had been shortened to reflect the public's certainty of Huntley's guilt.

A six-week trial in which Huntley's defence seemed increasingly more implausible as it was unravelled created the impression that justice was not being seen to be done.

Even seasoned Old Bailey observers questioned the point of going through the motions of empanelling 12 jurors to return what they regarded as an inevitable verdict.

But, in the end, the jury took four days to reach their verdicts and, when they did come back, they were not unanimous about either defendant's guilt.

Their long and careful deliberations is a powerful argument for allowing justice to run its course and confirms that the presumption of innocence must remain absolute. Due process cannot be subverted to match the public's expectation of what constitutes a fair trial.

Courtenay Griffiths QC, the barrister in the murder trial ofDamilola Taylor, the Peckham schoolboy, argued that, in the most notorious cases, it was even more important to ensure that no legal corners were cut. He said: "What do you think Ian Huntley is going to be doing for the rest of his life? He's going to be spending it petitioning the Court of Appeal to try to show the trial process was flawed in some way. Would justice really be served if ... the Court of Appeal was to quash his conviction because he was not given a fair trial?"

But there has never been a two-tier system of justice in this country: one for ordinary defendants and another, in cases like Huntley, where the Crown has no doubt of the defendant's guilt. Proposals for shortening the time taken to try serious offenders also fly in the race of natural justice.

Mr Justice Moses, the Soham trial judge, has a reputation for ensuring justice is swift. Progress was assisted by the 26 admissions Huntley made to the court, which relieved the prosecution of the responsibility of having to prove that the girls where in his house or that he was present when they died. The relative speed of the trial has also limited the legal fees paid to the barristers and solicitors instructed in the case.

And under new rules which came into force this year, the Soham trial is ranked as a high-cost criminal case, which means that barristers must justify their fees at every stage. With such overwhelming evidence against Huntley, there have been suggestions that the prosecution should have come to some sort of deal with the defence. But a plea-bargain, in which Huntley admitted manslaughter to escape a conviction for murder, was not in the interests of justice. The Crown believed the sufficiency of evidence and the public interest meant Huntley should be tried and convicted for murder to reflect the true nature of his crime.