September 2009 articles archive:

No "realistic prospect" of prosecutors proving beyond reasonable doubt

Within days of the not guilty verdict of the bomb plot by two teenage young boys at Manchester, the Crown Prosecution Service takes a different view about the shooting of Mark Saunders.

Apparently, we are told by the Crown Prosecution Service, no police officers will be prosecuted over the fatal shooting of barrister Mark Saunders in what has been described as a siege in London in May 2008. 

Mr Saunders, 32, died after being shot at least five times by police officers in Chelsea.

The shooting followed threats to neighbours and police with a shotgun.  The siege went on for five hours and resulted in a stand-off at Saunders home in Markham Square.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone after the siege.  Charges of murder, attempted murder and manslaughter were considered against seven officers who fired eleven bullets at Mr Saunders.

The CPS came to the view that there was no "realistic prospect" of prosecutors proving beyond reasonable doubt that the armed officers did not act in self defence.  Possible charges of gross negligence and misconduct, and health and safety charges against those in charge of the operation, were also considered. 

What is not completely clear is the reasoning behind the decision not to prosecute personnel, who were not actually threatened, but who were in charge of the operation.

Sally Walsh, of the CPS, said: "Following the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into the shooting of Mark Saunders, I have reviewed the evidence and concluded that there is insufficient evidence to charge any officer in relation to these sad events."

The family of Mark Saunders took action in the High Court seeking a declaration that the investigation by the IPCC was unlawful. The High Court dismissed the  claim by Mark Saunders' family that the independent police investigation was unlawful.

The judge did however raise questions about the police practice of allowing the officers involved to confer.  The issue being that individuals took the opportunity to get together and agree over their version of events.  The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has since apparently taken action   to stop any conferring in such cases.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry has been held but the outcome will not be made public until a full inquest into Mr Saunders' death has been held.

A statement issued by Elizabeth Saunders' solicitor reads: "Elizabeth now awaits the inquest which will consider in public why it was necessary for police officers to shoot her husband. She is concerned that nothing should be allowed to deflect attention away from the need for a full, careful and objective consideration of that question."

These incidents present real concerns for those involved and many will remember the shooting of Jean Paul De Menezes on the London underground.

For a full account of the charging decision regarding the shooting of Mark Saunders go to 'Charging decision regarding shooting of Mark Saunders' shown as a link to this article - http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/press_releases/143_09/

 

 

 

Assisted suicide - the law has not changed

Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions has now published his interim policy on assisted suicide.

This interim policy comes after the Law Lords backed multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy's call for a policy statement on whether people who help someone commit suicide should be prosecuted.

Relatives of people who kill themselves will not face prosecution as long as they do not maliciously encourage them and assist only a "clear settled and informed wish" to commit suicide, the Director of Public Prosecutions said today.

Keir Starmer QC outlined guidance to make it easier for those helping someone commit assisted suicide to know if they will face prosecution.

Today's statement comes after multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy's battle in the courts calling for a policy statement on whether people who help someone commit suicide should be prosecuted.

Mr Starmer has been reported as saying : "There are no guarantees against prosecution and it is my job to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected while at the same time giving enough information to those people like Mrs Purdy who want to be able to make informed decisions about what actions they may choose to take."

Adding: "Assisting suicide has been a criminal offence for nearly 50 years and my interim policy does nothing to change that."

Will this interim policy help?  One of its purposes is to make it much easier for people to know if they will be prosecuted or not.

The guidelines are divided into factors,  those weighing in favour of prosecution and those against, as well as factors that are normally considered when deciding whether to prosecute under the general Code for Prosecutors.

There are 16 factors to be taken into account in favour of prosecution.  Of these eight will have particular weight, including the lack of a clear wish and of unequivocal indication on the victim’s part that they intended to commit suicide.

Factors against prosecution included that the victim had a "clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide" and that the victim "indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide".

Factors in favour of prosecution included that the victim was under 18 and did not ask personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect.

Another factor in favour of prosecution was that a relative "persuaded, pressured or maliciously encouraged the victim to commit suicide".

There will no doubt be many who feel they have something to say on this point.  Some may argue that that this is a further step along a slippery path.  Others may be convinced that clinics will spread throughout this country.  But what is Debbie Purdy's reaction to the policy statement?

Debbie Purdy has been reported as saying "We believe that us dying is very much a last measure and it shouldn't be considered a casual choice and I think these guidelines put in place, they codify, that people should consider alternatives but that if those things are considered and somebody assists them, they won't necessarily be prosecuted and that they will know what they must have done, they will know what they should make sure of before they assist, and that will hopefully give people confidence not to make such a decision until the last possible minute," she said.

Ms Purdy has acknowledged that  the judiciary showed "courage" to look into the issues surrounding the law of assisted suicide, while politicians were "terrified of taking up the issue".

"The judiciary has had the courage to at least consider in the 21st century what are things that matter, and they are differentiating very clearly between malicious encouragement of people to end their lives and support for somebody who has made the considered and informed decision, which, maybe, can make them leave it longer to end their life."

Ms Purdy speaking about her situation and the effect on her Cuban husband added: "We want to live our lives, not plan my death, and we can't do that while there is a huge cloud hanging over us that if I don't make a decision while physically able to do it myself, he could face prosecution. Now the DPP has put in black and white and is opening up for discussion with the public under what conditions people should or shouldn't be prosecuted."

Ms Purdy has some concerns about the guidance but is on record as saying she  hopes that  these would be addressed during the consultation.

Finally, it is slightly chilling to read about 'friends and family' as being 'suspects'!  How will these carers and loved ones feel about the consultation document? They will be the ones that are left behind.

DNA update - What Sir Alec Jeffreys thinks

The scientist who discovered genetic fingerprinting has called for a drastic reduction in the DNA database.

The scientist who discovered genetic fingerprinting has called for a drastic reduction in the DNA database.  This happens to be on the 25th anniversary of the scientific breakthrough. 

This follows criticism inherent in recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights - questioning whether it is satisfactory to hold genetic profiles indefinitely irrespective of the person’s innocence.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, whose discovery has had a tremendous impact upon criminal investigation, has announced that in his view Britain has gone too far in disregarding the rights and privacy of innocent people through the practice  of collating a huge database of genetic information.

Sir Alec's technique has been used to identify and convict tens of thousands of criminals.  Those convicted include rapists and murderers, but Sir Alec has in effect said this does not justify the refusal to change the law and erase hundreds of thousands of innocent people from the Home Office list.

He has been quoted as saying "We now have a database that is populated within the order of 800,000 entirely innocent people which is bigger than the entire database of Germany or France,”

Sir Alec has been very direct in his views adding “So, this does raise very serious issues of discrimination, genetic privacy and stigmatisation. There’s a whole host of issues here and my view is very simply that they should not be on the database at all.”

The ruling last year in Strasbourg by the European Court of Human rights that Britain's 'blanket' policy was infringing the right to privacy may well be further fuelled by the comments of Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys. Human rights judges in Strasbourg ruled in 2008 that the "blanket" policy was a breach of the right to privacy.  This may raise the profile of further actions in the future.  Sir Alec says "Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not a proportionate response in the fight against crime.  I've met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they're branded as criminals."

In the meantime a report has just been published which suggests that the number of solved crimes using DNA samples has fallen despite the dramatic increase in the number of samples taken and which now form part of the National database.  The official report just published indicates that a record number of DNA samples are on the national database.  Apparently the number of crimes solved using DNA profiles has fallen by a fifth.

This news may fuel the debate about the government's policy especially as we are told that the cost of running the system has more than doubled.  It now costs over £4 million.

For those of you who are hungry for actual figures, over one million new DNA profiles taken from individuals have been added to the database over the last two years.  The total stands at more than 5.6 million.

The number of crimes solved where a genetic match was available, during this same period, fell by 16,000.

Peter Neyroud, Chief Constable of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which runs the database, has sprung to its defence reminding us that DNA was “the most effective tool for the prevention and detection of crime since the development of fingerprint analysis”.

Mr Neyroud was also quick to point to such high-profile cases in recent years as the murder of 18-year-old Sally Ann Bowman and the murders of prostitutes in Ipswich which were solved with DNA matches.

So why the fall in figures?  Well the National Policing Improvement Agency has been reported as saying the fall in detections was as a result of falls in recorded crime, particularly “high volume crimes” such as burglary and car break-ins.  This seems to reinforce the view of some victims of crime that the police only target certain crimes i.e. where they stand some chance of catching repeat offenders or known criminals and don't bother in other cases! Statistics can paint an encouraging picture particularly figures that suggest that reported crimes are down, but, on the other hand, and more worryingly, this may be due to other factors such as the fear of reprisals or the lack of community values in some parts of the country.

Certain reported crimes may be down but this is small comfort to victims of the many unsolved crimes. 

And the higher costs?  NPIA say this was largely due to the administration costs involved in the transfer of the service from the Forensic Science Service to the NPIA.

This debate will no doubt continue especially now that the Home Office has said that it has completed the consultation process on proposals to remove from the database, the DNA of innocent people after a statutory period.  The statutory period will be six or twelve years depending on the seriousness of the alleged offence.

What will the Bill look like?  Will the government listen to what other bodies and agencies have to say?  Will the government modify it's proposals and try to reach a reasonable compromise or will they stick to their guns in an attempt to appear strong, only to have to back down later to get their legislative programme through Parliament?  This has happened before with other proposals for example the increase of the 28 day detention period in the matter of terrorist suspects,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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