The scales of justice are tipped against defendants

Share

The existing rules against double jeopardy - trying a suspect twice for the same crime - can give considerable cause for queasiness. There have been notable cases where a jury has acquitted someone, only for the person who has been acquitted to boast of his crimes or for DNA evidence to make clear that he or she was indeed guilty. Each guilty murderer allowed to walk the streets freely undermines the judicial system.

The existing rules against double jeopardy - trying a suspect twice for the same crime - can give considerable cause for queasiness. There have been notable cases where a jury has acquitted someone, only for the person who has been acquitted to boast of his crimes or for DNA evidence to make clear that he or she was indeed guilty. Each guilty murderer allowed to walk the streets freely undermines the judicial system.

None the less, yesterday's recommendation by the Law Commission to abolish the double-jeopardy principle should make us feel queasier still. Admittedly, the abolition of the double-jeopardy rule would apply only if there is clear new evidence - not, in the deadpan phrase of the commission, "where the acquittal was perhaps surprising". (Translation: "where the jury took leave of its senses.") Even with that proviso, however, it is still inappropriate to change the rules.

The most important objection is not the point of principle in changing a law that has served us well since the time of Magna Carta. Ancient laws have been changed or abolished many times over the years, and that process will continue.

Crucially, however, the abolition of the double-jeopardy rule strikes at the very heart of the jury system. Under the current system, a man or woman who has been acquitted should remain free of all stigma. Lord Denning notoriously questioned this principle, wrongly declaring that, though the Guildford Four were acquitted on appeal, they were "probably guilty". But even Denning apologised for his foolishness. It would be wrong if the stigma - including questions about a person's guilt - were allowed to linger on, even after a jury acquittal. The retrial would stack the dice against the defendant to an extraordinary degree, since a jury would be liable to perceive the very fact of a retrial as a clear-cut indication of guilt.

These new proposals are not even the thin end of the wedge; the wedge is already far too thick. Already, the rights of defendants have been chipped away by successive governments - including the right to silence and the automatic right to trial by jury. This latest change would set a dangerous precedent and would turn on its head the principle of innocent until proved guilty, so that anyone could be regarded as guilty even after being found innocent in a court of law. Even now, the Government can ignore the commission's proposals. In the interests of justice, it should do so.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture