August 2010 articles archive:

Sion Jenkins - a miscarriage of justice?

Any one looking for an example of a miscarriage of justice might be forgiven for wondering about the rejection of Sion Jenkins claim for £500,000 damages for the prison term he served prior to his release following his appeal.

Sion Jenkins had been convicted in 1998 of the murder of his foster daughter Billie-Jo.  Billie-Jo was 13 years old at the time and had been beaten to death in 1997 with a large metal tent peg at her foster parent's home.  Jenkins was charged with her murder within days but always maintained his innocence.

Sion Jenkins, a former deputy headmaster, spent 6 years in prison for the murder but the Court of Appeal considered the conviction to be unsafe and unsatisfactory and allowed Jenkins appeal. Jenkins was released on bail pending a new trial. 

Some might argue that justice was not only denied Billie-Jo, because Jenkins was acquitted of the murder in February 2006 following two retrials when neither jury could reach a verdict, but also that Sion Jenkins was denied justice because a direction by a trial judge to the jury to acquit or return a verdict of 'not guilty' is now seen by some to be different to a 'not guilty' decision by the jury, if they had been able to reach a conclusion.  Can this be right?  Many of you who are law students may quickly ask whatever happened to the principle 'innocent until proven guilty?'

In the meantime, according to the Ministry of Justice, the rules require that applicants for compensation, under Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, for miscarriages of justice must show that they are 'clearly innocent'. It remains to be seen whether Mr Jenkins will appeal the Ministry decision. 

Barry George, who spent eight years in prison before being acquitted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando has faired a little better in his pursuit of a similar compensation claim having recently won  his case for judicial review of the former Justice Secretary's decision to refuse compensation. 

This is area of the law made need clarification and maybe the Supreme Court which is due to hear three appeals next year will shed some light on the meaning of the phrase 'miscarriage of justice'. 

The Death Penalty

There will be many law students and human rights lawyers alike who may find themselves having to revisit the arguments for and against the death penalty, not necessarily because they want to, but because of events around the world.

In this country the execution of women was one of the main reasons why our society became increasingly concerned over the continuation of capital punishment.

The country finally showed its unease with the conviction and execution of Ruth Ellis in 1955.  Ruth Ellis was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey following her conviction for the shooting of her lover, David Blakely, outside the Magdala public house in North London.  Some might say that the notoriety came from the participants lifestyles, Ellis was a 28-year-old former model and nightclub hostess, David Blakely was a racing driver and only 25 when Ellis shot him.

The case of Ruth Ellis may be remembered as being the last woman executed in this country.  The death penalty was suspended in 1965 and permanently removed in 1970.

But further notoriety was to follow many years later when her family campaigned for the murder conviction to be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of the defence provocation. The case was brought to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) who then referred the matter to the Court of Appeal in September 2003.

The defence argued that Ellis was suffering "battered woman syndrome".  Apparently she had suffered a miscarriage just 10 days before the killing.  It was alleged that this was after David Blakely had punched her in the stomach.

The appeal was disallowed.  The appeal judges ruled she had been properly convicted of murder in accordance with the law as it stood at the time of her conviction. Ironically it was as a result of concerns over such cases that the Homicide Act 1957 was passed just a few years later when the defence of diminished responsibility came into being.

The case of Ruth Ellis may have been considered to have been unusual at the time but Alex Hannaford of the Guardian has now drawn our attention to the cruel and unusual case of Teresa Lewis who may become the first woman executed in the state of Virginia for a century.

A Triumph for democracy

A recent review of teachers who are BNP members or affiliated with similar organisations within England has ruled that membership of such organisations alone is not substantial enough grounds for dismissal.

Now I am no supporter of the British National Party, nor do I condone any of their far right policies but it is very obvious to see when people's freedoms and rights are being quashed in order to disperse a radical thought, the 12th of March 2010 is not one of those occasions. 

When the BNP membership list was revealed it was very easy for people to dehumanise BNP members with comments on their racism and the Nazi-esque mannerisms.  Later on in the week it was revealed that some of these members were policemen, teachers and doctors and there was an outcry in the press for these equally hard working members of society to lose their jobs.  It is understandable if you are of an ethnic minority and I can fully understand a migrant family wanting to pull their child from a class of a teacher who appears on the list, but before anybody reacts you must think about what Hitler did. Anybody who did not think the way he wanted them to think lost their jobs and had to be registered. If Nazism were not promoted in the classroom the teachers would face disciplinary action or lose their jobs. This is exactly some peoples approach to the BNP.

The act of repression in itself is incredibly right wing and would be a very slippery slope.  We educate and inform and we have equality laws but the idea of turning Britain in to an authoritarian state to stop the next Hitler is ludicrous.

I would much prefer people to have a right to say whatever they wish in their private lives.  This is a free country and being a bigot is not illegal nor should it be.  It is the racist attack that is the illegal act.

If someone really truly believes that immigrants are ruining the country but does not let this interfere with their profession then they are perfectly entitled to the job.  On the other hand if a teacher were to teach hate, spread ignorance or bend the truth to affect the minds of others then they should face the wrath of the law.  This should be true in all aspects of the teaching profession.

If a teacher were to push communism or republican ideas on to their students as fact then they too should be prosecuted.  Teachers should be impartial and unbiased in all things.  I would go as far as to say that teachers who praise the incumbent prime minister in their classroom are also acting illegally.  We should not push children into political beliefs but rather let them come to it naturally.  Being a member of a political party does not mean that all your time is spent brainwashing people.

It is very easy to act irrationally and jump to conclusions but freedom of speech is one of our most important rights and no matter what people say we cannot persecute them purely for believing differently from us.

 

 

 

Are we entitled to feel safer? 'Sarah's Law'

Following a trial of the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, the scheme known as 'Sarah's Law' is to be introduced over a period of time on a national basis. The scheme allows parents to check if someone with access to their children is a sex offender.

Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah Payne, who was kidnapped and murdered by a convicted sex offender, Roy Whiting, thinks it is right to introduce Sarah's Law  on a national basis although she argues that there is an issue about full disclosure. 

Sara was made the government's Victims' Champion after her campaign to bring in the measures.

She has been reported as saying in the News of the World newspaper that "despite this positive step, I still believe there's a need for fuller disclosure".

Sara did however point out that children had been made safer by the scheme, adding: "Sarah would be so proud, I'm only sorry it took her death for this vital reform to become a reality."

The scheme, which is to be piloted in eight more police force areas prior to being expanded to the whole of England and Wales by the Spring of 2011, is the result of extensive trials to evaluate such concerns as vigilante retaliations and driving paedophiles undergound thereby increasing risk as opposed to proving a greater degree of protection.  This is what some professionals have had to say about the scheme.

Diana Sutton, of the NSPCC, has acknowledged that the pilot scheme has helped protect some children, but urged the government to "tread cautiously" as it expanded the initiative.

"We remain concerned about the risk of vigilante action and sex offenders going underground. All new local schemes need close management and proper resourcing to avoid this," she said.

One of the concerns is whether it is right to expect informed parents to keep the information to themselves.  Chief Constable Paul West of the Association of Chief Police Officers ,who has been closely involved with the scheme, thinks that the scheme will work without the need for widespread disclosure.

According to Paul West "If there is information that says someone with previous offences for child sex offending is living in a particular house next door, and became known to a person, if there were other children to whom they have access, clearly that would come out in the course of the investigation and we would disclose that appropriately to anyone who has children who are at risk,"

"The point is, we don't go for widespread public disclosure to anybody and everybody because that's just the sort of thing that leads to the vigilantism which we've seen in the past."

Home Secretary Theresa May is also on record as saying that the scheme was an "important step forward for child protection" which would also help police manage known sex offenders more effectively.

"Being able to make these checks reassures parents and the community and, more importantly, keeps children safer."

In the past we have seen instances of families and members of the public protesting on the streets as a result of someone finding out that a sex offender has been living amongst them.  With such strength of feeling about the safety of children running so high, will such scenes be repeated?  Any parent could argue that their child is still at risk-it is enough that a convicted sex offender is at large in their neighbourhood.  Having said that this legislation marks something of a milestone in that it does demonstrate the willingness of the government to embark on such pilot schemes and widespread involvement and consultation of proposed legislation in an attempt to arrive at a workable solution.  Time will tell. 

In addition there has been vigilante action taken against individuals.  One such individual being Bryan Davies.

Ironically, the widow of Bryan Davies has acknowledged that the scheme is capable of not only protecting children but also individuals falsely accused by the public as was her husband.  Apparently he suffered a massive heart attack after months of vandalism and abuse at the hands of local youths who wrongly believed he was a sex offender.

Mrs Davies, has been reported as saying: “It would have made a difference for Bryan and he could still have been alive.

“If those parents making the accusations and starting the rumours had been able to check the information for themselves, it would never have escalated.

“If people are actually registered sex offenders then I agree with the parents having that information. It’s a good idea to be able to check.

“But then you get people like Bryan who was accused and cleared, yet still there was the vigilante behaviour.

“It must be very carefully handled because one false rumour or misinformation can result in what happened to Bryan.”

 

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