I’m on holiday so I haven’t really been following the legal news closely recently.
The coverage of the Levi Bellfield trial though has been troublesome.
This may also explain why law bloggers have been largely dismayed by the attitudes about the trial in the media.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It also doesn’t work well for a justice system. Much of the uproar has been on the basis that ‘Bellfield shouldn’t have been entitled to a defence because he was obviously guilty‘. Such firmness of conviction comes from the verdict rather than the indictment.
Bellfield may have been “obviously guilty” (though I disagree). But then so was Colin Stagg. So too were the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and so on. So too Craig Charles, and a whole load of people whose convictions appeared damning.
The suggestion is that the defence should pull their punches to save everyone some discomfort. That may well make for a more sanitised trial, but it will, as sure as night follows day, result in innocent people being sent to prison.
If you are innocent, it means at least one person has been mistaken, negligent or dishonest. You cannot tiptoe around the issue. It has to come out and it has to be put directly to the person. This is, believe it or not, for the benefit of the witness: cross examination is the chance they have to refute any such accusation.
You may say that that’s all well and good in theory, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that the Dowler family went through a traumatic experience in the witness box. Of course it doesn’t.
But let’s turn it around. As you will see from the link above, the police at one point suspected Mr Dowler of being involved in his daughter’s disappearance and death. They had reason to be suspicious. This was the reason the defence was pursued as it was. Suppose, as is known to happen, the police got over-excited or sloppy, and it was Mr Dowler in the dock rather than Mr Bellfield. Would you honestly say that his innocence should be compromised to spare the feelings of others? Would you be happy with a conviction that resulted from such misplaced goodwill?
Of course not.