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HUMANITIES SCIENCE POLITICS

Science, People & Politics ISSN 1751-598X

FROM BRITISH COURTS | 26

DONKEY RIDING COLUMN: JUSTICE IN THE DARK

Law is not science, nor is it medicine. The starting point in the Crown Court of England and
Wales is that no matter how overwhelming the evidence, the defendant is innocent until the pros-
ecution proves otherwise. That is, the null hypothesis is: the defendant is innocent.

Likely motives are irrelevant; narrative context anathema. Can the evidence be explained some
other way is a valid question. Murder is not an epigenetic biochemical phenomenon, which can
be understood differently depending on the physiological entry point. Murder is murder, unless it
is manslaughter, or accident, or suicide, or self-defence, or lawful defence of another. The
Crown Prosecution Service determines the charges.

Evidence is sufficient unto itself, and its relationship to fact is complex, as is the meaning of fact.
When it comes to scientific or medical evidence the context is a siren call which can lure the
scientist or doctor to embarrassment, or worse.

That there is no burden on a defendant to prove their innocence is something I have now heard
every single defence counsel I have seen in action tell the Court. It matters to recall that the
scientific and medical evidence are only a small part of what is presented to the jury. Family
pains, children, relationships - the stuff of life, even when Court Orders under one of the Youth
and Criminal Justice Acts are not made - do not always make it into the journalist's copy.

The lives wrecked, irrespective of the defendants' guilt or innocence, are not, in the Crown
Court, the story. It is the act itself. How overwhelmingly plausible is it that the accused must have
committed the crime, even if the act was not seen, odd seconds of evidence are missing, or the
murder weapon not found? Is there sufficient evidence to justify a jury concluding the
accused had murder in their heart, and knew that, given the existence of certain weapons,
murder might well be committed?

To students of law the news reports, transferred from the publisher's website where they
appeared contemporaneously, to pages 28-30 of this issue, are the tip of an iceberg which is
their discipline. To scientists the point of these two news reports is that science is a tiny part of
justice. It is a servant, and it is subservient. To politicians of any nation the two news reports be-
ginning on page 28 speak of tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.

Fellow journalists undertaking court reporting from English and Welsh Courts will recognise the
legal landscapes plausibly shaping the proceedings leading to the jury's retirement.

And now to the criticism. The Courts are not the private property of those who work there. Open
justice, I argue, means evidence should be presented so that justice may be seen to be done. In
the case I report on pages 28-30, having sat through 17 days of defence, closing speeches and
the judge' summary of evidence, and legal directions, I did not once see some of the evidence of
great significance, namely the video footage. None of my fellow Press seemed to think the Court
set up inappropriate. I think it was.

Equally important, only a few of those in the public gallery, who included the officer-in-the-case,
could see the video evidence as it was presented to the jury, and then only at an extreme
oblique angle. I suggest also that that is wrong.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 27 | 26

Issue 1 (Jan-Mar), 2017............................................Science, People & Politics ISSN 1751-598X print and online


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Published Friday 24th February, 2017,
nominally.
Completed 9th April, 2017.

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