The Stephen Lawrence Case
An illustration of the importance of bipartisanship in the criminal process.
1. The Outset
This was the unprovoked killing of the teenager Stephen Lawrence in South East London by stabbing at a bus stop. For a number of years there was no conviction but several young men were suspected as being implicated at an early stage. The nub of the criticism of the South East London Police was they had been prejudiced on racist grounds against the victim who was black – the suspects being white. The theory gathered substance that the murder was racist. What mattered was the murder and you do not have to establish a motive to prove murder. It was unwise to berate the Police for not concentrating on the motive when the undoubted fact of the intentional murder mattered more. The inquiry revolved around the motive and the reluctance of the local Police to properly follow through this aspect. Moreover it was said at the inquiry the Police deliberately went soft on the suspects on racial grounds i.e. preferring them as they were white. That was counterproductive. We all depend on the Metropolitan Police in London and we have to work with them in emergencies and generally. To make this gratuitously offensive allegation against the Police of the metropolis true or false was to sour relations between the Police and the Public. The Police as always rose above the furore in a dignified way and received politely and stoutly the stinging words of the inquiry.
2. The Inquiry under the Honourable Mr Justice McPherson (1998 – 1999)
This was instituted upon the decision of the then Home Secretary Jack Straw as it was thought the Metropolitan Police had shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the task of pursuing these suspects. At a trial in the Central Criminal Court in April 1996 within a private prosecution brought by the victim’s family two suspects who had been arraigned were acquitted by the Jury on the direction of the trial Judge after the prosecution case had been heard. The trial Judge based his direction on the unreliability of the prosecution identification evidence.
3. The Sequel
Eventually two suspects were convicted of murder at too great a cost i.e. too long after the crime was committed and following far too much publicity and debate in the media concerning the guilt of these accused and others. One of these two accused had his previous acquittal by Judge and Jury set aside by the High Court (Court of Appeal) which had always been an Ancient English Liberty and Right preventing another trial. I am afraid the hue and cry in the Inquiry and generally had created real animosity to certain suspects and these accused not mere prejudice. The eventual trial at the Central Criminal Court before a Judge and Jury from 14 November 2011 to 3 January 2012 could only have one result to “satisfy” this section of the public who were extremely partisan and had poisoned the so called mind of the reasonable innocent member of the public. The Jury had an impossible task and duly returned guilty verdicts to avert public outcry. It was really a case calling for a trial by a Judge sitting alone to ensure justice was done but this option was not available to the trial Judge.
The essence of our society is that it can only be bonded through the Rule of Law and Ethical behaviour by our lawyers and Judges. What do I mean by ethical behaviour? These lawyers, advocates and Judges set out the boundaries for the rest of us. The parameters are based on Justice which is a Christian concept not a partisan one. Anything partisan detracts from the true meaning of justice. We should all in the legal process aspire to be bipartisan. It is for the prosecutor to present the case for the Crown for the Defence Counsel to defend and the Jury to deliver their verdicts following the Judge’s summing up. Each actor must be properly supported in his, her or their role. Due respect should be given to each actor in the Court Room enactment. The actions of all actors should focus on the fundamental need for conciliation emanating from our judicial process. Otherwise Justice is reduced to the whipping boy function. That is anathema to the true meaning of our Criminal Courts. There can be no punishment without forgiveness ensuing from the contrition following that retribution. To misunderstand this process is to gravely undermine our Courts and all who work within them. Justice rightly abhors the partisan approach.