Thursday, March 13, 2008

In Defence Of Justice

As a former court employee, I have to sit on my hands every time I find some blogger holding forth on the iniquities of modern justice.

Legal concepts such as "beyond reasonable doubt", the presumption of innocence, mens rea, the not proven verdict, time bar etc. are very easy to understand, but just try explaining them to someone who is determined to see malign conspiracies in judgements... I've tried, once, and I managed to chew off my own fists then violently puke them through the screen of my laptop.

Try cleaning that up with only stumps...

Still, I think that people should be aware that the system draws on hundreds of years of tried-and-tested methodology and precedent. To that end, I've randomly picked a historical case, and would like to use it to illustrate how the legal system adapts to changing requirements.

The nation was horrified and transfixed by the case of Crown v Edison, a 1969 prosecution brought against a suspected double murderer.

The defendant, Maxwell Edison, who was majoring in medicine at the time of the alleged offences, was accused of the brutal murder of his girlfriend and his teacher with a deadly weapon.

The prosecution alleged that Edison had waited until his victims were distracted, before sneaking up behind them and striking them twice to the head with a hammer. Forensic evidence showed two further blows, "to make sure (they were) dead" - clear proof of premeditation.

An unusual, but not unheard of case today - it is the sheer incompetence of court officials that I wish to draw attention to.

Firstly, the defendent's family were allowed to scream at the court from the gallery, receiving only a mild rebuke from the presiding judge. Orderly conduct in the courts is sacrosanct in the modern day, and anyone causing such a disturbance would be charged with contempt of court and swiftly removed to the cells.

Amazingly, the defendant then used the distraction to somehow slip from the dock to attack and fatally wound the judge, all without police intervention. This lapse is doubly stunning, since PC 31 had himself given evidence to the fact that the defendant was "a dirty one." When it emerged that, not only had the defendant managed to slay the trial judge, but had done so with the self same weapon that he had used to murder his first two victims, the full scale of the debacle was apparent.

That kind of official negligence would not be possible today, as offenders with a history of violence, playing the fool or causing unpleasant scenes are handcuffed to agents of the court. Unruliness is not tolerated and weapons such as hammers are held by the prosecution and destroyed at the close of proceedings.

That is how our system works - it learns and adapts to ensure the best possible outcome.

For those interested, a full court report can be found here.

No comments: