The Quashing of Conviction in England & Wales and General Observations
R.M. Lamb’s case for trial by Judge alone in murder cases and associated to murder cases, leads to the conclusion only this result will save our murder trial Criminal Justice in the medium to long term.
1. The Story
Traditionally convictions could be quashed/ overturned by the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, but only seldom. The Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six convictions for murders by bombings (in the case of the Maguire Seven case only preparatory acts to such bombings) were all convictions struck down by our Court of Appeal Criminal Division in the 1980’s/90’s and the trials had been in the 1970’s before puisne High Court Judges of our Queens Bench Division sitting with juries. With Bentley a 1950’s conviction for murder of a police officer on duty with a firearm, he went to the gallows after an unsuccessful appeal before Lord Chief Justice Goddard and his brother Judges. The consensus now is that these were all wrongful convictions brought in by the Jury concerned. Bentley received a posthumous Pardon decades after he had been executed. I am concerned with English alleged miscarriages and our Criminal Justice trials for murder.
2. The Release Post-trial and Appeals
I say firstly there is only one proper bite of the cherry although the English Appeal Court can order a retrial. I argue that is unfair on the accused. If the conviction is not quashed then the executive may in principle release or grant a pardon by the Home Office. In the exercise of its discretion the Home Office has released early - e.g. George Davis armed robber convict released on the orders of Roy Jenkins Home Secretary in the 1970’s. That should be the last resort and only used in exceptional circumstances: e.g. Giuseppe Conlon of the Maguire Seven who was gravely ill in prison post-sentence. Davis in my view was mistakenly released and promptly re-offended in another very serious armed robbery. He was dealt with very severely and properly by that Trial Judge at the Old Bailey - Rt. Hon. Justice Thesiger - when brought before the Court for that fresh offence. He pleaded guilty this time.
3. First Trial
The Court of Appeal Criminal Division never used to declare a Defendant innocent or not guilty. That was only for the trial Jury empanelled in the Crown Court. I do not believe this has changed. I submit the focus must be on the first and only trial and if that results in a conviction/s or acquittal/s those verdicts should stand subject to a conviction/s being overturned by the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. Once we open the door to Appeal Court ordered retrials and quashed acquittals that focus in the first trial is lost. The whole trial for murder process must be concentrated on the initial trial or the impetus of our Criminal Justice is dispersed. The Crown Court Judge may abandon a trial of his own volition.
4. Judge Alone
I argue, as is well known, for trial by Judge alone in all murder cases and associated murder offences trials. Once that regime is brought in the confidence in any murder conviction will soar compared to the present free for all in challenging the Jury’s verdict of murder. The Jury are the weakest link and it is simply unjustifiable, as I have said, to expect Juries to bring in murder convictions at all and also where the Defendant is at risk of hanging as I argue. One of the reasons for the clamour against the abolition of trial by Jury in any class of case is that such abolition and replacement by trial by Judge alone will strengthen murder convictions and make them much easier to defend. It is the murder cases that matter to everyone on account of their extreme gravity and the chance to have a go at the Jury during the trial and challenge the Jury’s murder conviction post-trial. Make no mistake as a Country we have not gone soft on murder, but we have lost our ability to sustain murder criminal justice and its proper ability to deliver proven veracity. It has become a game played over the dead body and the accused’s fate and his relations with those connections of the murdered. We have the gravitas, but the Judge who should be in charge is denied his true responsibility and role in these murder cases due to our reluctance to grasp the nettle.
5. The Establishment
I suspect the Judges, the Bar, the DPP, the CPS and the investigating police officers are well aware of this state of affairs - in effect justice has ground to a halt when it comes to the most important cases - murders. Clearly Parliament must take the initiative, but it is unable to lead the way forward. What is our priority? To prosecute these murder cases effectively or allow this process to be harassed like a worried sheep to death itself. There is simply too much at stake. You have to be prepared to take the plunge into trial for murder cases by Judge alone on the back of the Police force, the DPP and the CPS. They will gather and correctly present the evidence to the Court. I am afraid there will be powerful opponents, but until the debate begins these persons will not speak and my case will not be carried forward as it should be. We have nothing to fear and once this new regime is put in place there will be new found confidence in our criminal justice for murder, even though hanging may come later.
You will never find the Senior Judges sanctioning the Death Sentence for murder so long as trial by Jury prevails in such cases, whether they say it or not. There is an acute problem with the non-Judicial establishment and hanging for murder - they are dead against it. They are also blinkered to run hard against trial by Judge alone for murder. They will run the race to defeat that object of Judge alone trials, but they will be unable to see around them so “their jockey” will be curtailed in what he can do. We, for our part, can see the whole field and the race course. All we require is a clear run - we will not be boxed in. We will come through on the outside. Is our Country to be ruled by obscurantism or the noble virtue of punishing those who take life by sentencing them under the present rules? We have the men and women to do this job. Let us all play our part and see it done.