The Value of The Exculpatory Statement and The Crime of Murder
These Appeals drove a stake through the hart of English Criminal Justice in the late 1980’s and the 1990’s. Now is the time for the Chronicleur Judicaire to reflect dispassionately on these Appeal cases and elicit the lessons to be learned. English Justice will recover – that was never in doubt.
I have severe doubts this matter is properly addressed by the prosecuting authorities since the Guildford Four Appeal and Birmingham Six Appeal turmoil of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I am afraid the loudness of this clamour for quashing and release leads me to strongly suspect this noise has no substance. The pleading cries of His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume RIP did not aid the cause of these overarching Irish accused and first generation Irish Defendants.
The Irish are known for the kissing of the Blarney Stone and their magical charm. The leprechaun is an Irish invention like the limerick. They fought hard for us in the Great War when they desired Independence and Home Rule. Their Irish blood ran in rivulets across the battle fields of France, Flanders and Gallipoli. They have personality and flair rather than true English character, but I do not dispute their noble and supreme sacrifice in the 1914-18 War. What now matters is these so called criminal trial miscarriages of justice and the reputation of the English Crown and her police force for fair-mindedness.
2. The Guildford Trial (1974) and the Appeals in the late 1980’s arising from that trial
The police garnered the evidence of written admissions all signed for by the four accused. Crown Counsel properly secured the murder convictions and the Jury cannot be faulted or the trial Judge: The Rt. Hon. Mr Justice John Donaldson later Master of the Rolls. The evidence on Appeal was self serving with no fresh admissions against interest introduced by the Appellants. The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) Lord Justice Roskill, the Senior Judge presiding, were prevailed upon in 1990 approximately to quash these multiple murder convictions. What a terrible day on any view for the English Criminal Justice process! I say the convictions, properly arrived at, should not have been overturned but upheld.
The enormous structural damage done by this Guildford Four Appeal Case will take years and decades to rectify – indeed still not done 25 years on. The crucial fact was the incriminating recorded admissions (contemporaneous) not the self- serving allegations of inhumane treatment and police brutality made firstly years after the trial. These self-serving allegations had no probative value and were purely designed to secure release on appeal. I am afraid the Appellate Judges erred in not giving more weight on Appeal to these incriminating admissions against interest made close to the fatal explosions dates by the four Appellants, as opposed to these worthless accusations of threats of violence against the police not even backed up by consistency at trial. Consistency would have been one thing to help eradicate the erratic and inconsistent conduct of these then convicted murderers in 1989 and before.
I say the convictions were not defended with real vigour and confidence – Sir Michael Havers QC, the Crown Counsel at trial, was not called on to represent the Crown in the pivotal hearing – he may have died or been in Judicial office. The Court of Appeal should not have released these convicts on appeal however unpopular it may have made that Division of the Court of Appeal. The Executive could have exercised its powers of release without the tremors caused by these quashed murder convictions for bombing two Public Houses – Guildford and Woolwich.
3. The Birmingham Six Appeals
These depended on forensic evidence of explosive dust allegedly found on the hands of some, if not all, the Appellants which was said by the Appellants Counsel to be playing cards residue rather than nitro-glycerine. The Crown expert Dr Scuse at trial had died when the Appeals came on in the 1990’s. Here again there were self-serving allegations of police ill treatment to destabilise the reliability of the admissions: incriminating. These admissions were not thought greatly reliable by the Appeal Court Judges who refused to rely on Dr Scuse’s findings. Here again the incriminating admissions were thrown away too easily as in the Guildford Case. These admissions were the core of the murders case against the Six and they were direct evidence as opposed to the circumstantial evidence of Dr Scuse. Too much reliance on Dr Scuse being discredited and not enough on the admissions contemporaneously recorded. The ill treatment accusations were made to suit the Defendants’ case, probably initially at trial, and definitely later on Appeal.Never let a murderer accused of murder suit himself whether at trial or on Appeal is the moral. The trial Judge: the Rt. Hon. Mr Justice Nigel Bridge was a clear thinking Judge who would have put these contested admissions fairly to the Jury. Dr Scuse was challenged I believe at trial. His death left a hole, yes, but not enough importance was placed on the incriminating admissions – there can be no better evidence in a multiple murder case like this one.
- What is the outcome? The most serious multiple murders since the War all released on Appeal – 10 Appellants in all. The precedent was set to challenge and challenge a conviction to secure release and quashing the conviction. The Home Office should have dealt with all these convicts by release or continued detention. Blair’s Good Friday understandings would have enabled their release in 1999/2000 anyway, with other convicted bombers on the mainland, a short time after their actual release on poor arguments for the Appellants in the London Court of Appeal. The Home Office knew 1999/2000 was coming and thus the Under-Secretary could have taken a view without exposing our Court of Appeal to this extremely excruciating Criminal Appeals process for the Guildford Four.
Who am I to criticise our Appeal Judges for what they ruled twenty five years ago? This release by the Home Secretary would have shielded our Criminal Appeal Judges from much rancorous debate and partisanship in their open Court and elsewhere. The disrespect to those very Senior Judges was regrettable and in our own Land of England & Wales.
- In the Guildford Four Case the media pressure and force of speech from influential persons, made the Appeal Court commit a mistake under that external interference as can happen in such unusual circumstances. If the Guildford Four had been released by the Home Office Minister in 1989/90 in response to this not unreasonable voiced concern for these prisoners, the Hearing of these four Appeals may have been delayed until the “bruit” had died down. Then the Appeal Judges could have considered the matter at leisure and quietly. Bail pending Appeal in the circumstances of these murders would be highly unlikely. English Justice would have “breathed” again. This suitable compromise would have restored order. If the Court of Appeal finally turned down the Appeals, the Appellants still would have had their liberty and freedom of speech according to law. The Appeal Court cannot be expected to rewrite history – it is a Law Court governed by the Rule of Law. It must uphold justice, and in this case these convictions were very good candidates for such support and upheld defence of these guilty verdicts, every one of them.
- These Appeal Judges in both the Guildford Case and the Birmingham atrocity were under grave pressure from inside and outside their Court room. They may have been unassisted by cogent argument even by Crown Counsel, let alone Defence Counsel. I suspect the Crown caved in maybe in both these cases – Birmingham and Guildford – certainly the convictions were not defended ardently. It is our justice that counts above all in England & Wales. These were miscarriages, yes, but not inflicted upon these ten Appellants, but occasioned on the person of the Crown Herself in the legal sense in these ten Appeals. The
targeted wrongful overturning of these convictions for murder against all these ten Appellants was the method used.
That is my view on these Judicial Appeals processes based on the legal chronicle and my professional acumen (now non-practising). It leaves a sour taste in my mouth at the very least.
We rightly hold our Judges: Senior and Junior in high esteem, and our Crown Counsel and defence Counsel with the Director as well. In these Guildford and Birmingham Appeals the Appellate Judges were forced into a corner. It is the function of Senior Counsel to open up all the choices and evidential interpretations for the Criminal Appeal Court. I fear this was not done effectively in the case of these Appeals arising out of these terrible atrocities in Guildford, Woolwich and Birmingham. The Judges in those Appeals were denied the opportunity to research all the analysis and outcomes. Matters had become too one-sided I am bound to write.
None other has been charge with these appalling and brutal explosions and terrorist acts of murder against the innocent. No legal Pardon was ever asked for. Our Police Officers had acted diligently and sincerely with good effect in both investigations I maintain to this day
- This wound will be healed I am confident, but let us never forget the high standards we aim for and the strength of character to achieve our objectives in English & Welsh Criminal Justice. I do not wish to re-try these two very serious cases – I do seek to shed light on the Appeals process for these widely known ten Appellants all released by order of our Court of Appeal between 1989 and 1995 so I believe.