Is ‘Adversarial Justice’ always the best?

by Ray_North on January 22, 2014

images-2By Guest Blogger, Eddie ‘Nice Guy’ Kaye.

I must confess that I am writing this piece with some trepidation. As Mr North recently pointed out, one should not comment on a case with which one is not fully in possession of the facts in the evidence. One should also not dispute the findings of a jury. However, I do feel a case was recently reported on which brought to the fore issues that should be applied to the wider criminal justice system. The case in question concerned 20 year old Rosie-Ann Stone. Over five days last week at Hull Crown Court, the jury heard the evidence and acquitted Ms Stone of causing death by careless driving. In a desperately tragic twist, the driver who died was the defendant’s elder sister Jennie.

The death of the elder sister was the second tragedy to befall the Stone family in the space of 8 months. In mid 2012, one of their brothers was killed serving in Afghanistan. This was widely reported throughout the legal proceedings. Also reported were the criticism that the family had levelled at the CPS who had proceeded with the case in spite of their wishes as the victim’s family. The criticism was also echoed by Jeremy Clarkson in his newspaper column. Following the acquittal, the trial judge also went on record, stating he had called into question the public interest angle of the prosecution. Even the Daily Mail have sought to tell Rosie-Ann’s side of the story.

The ordeal this family must have gone through must have been unbearable. To lose one so young is one thing, to lose two in such a short time truly unthinkable. As victims, their suffering was made even more so by a nigh on year long legal process, and the worry that one of them could have gone to prison at the end of it. To that end, they have my unerring sympathy.

It is my opinion that this highlights the adversarial nature of our legal system. That somehow had a conviction been secured and ultimately a prison sentence been imposed that justice would have been served. In light of the not guilty verdict, all that has been served is delaying the grieving process that this family is entitled to. I have long been of the opinion that our prison system is broken. We send too many people to prison for too little. Ultimately, I am aware that someone has lost their life in such cases, but not at the hands of a dangerous criminal who needs locking up. It poses the question, how many people would be left on the streets if we locked up people for pulling out at junctions without looking, skipping amber lights or the like. It is sheer misfortune when in such circumstances a life is lost, and I find it slightly absurd that society’s response is to find someone responsible and impose a prison sentence.

I find it interested that both Jeremy Clarkson and the Daily Mail (hardly two institutions famed for their liberal views) have taken a holistic view in this case. Normally the public are whipped up into a frenzy at such cases – the comments column running hot with cries that the sentences imposed are too short and the usual bilious like. My question is simply, why cannot this be the wider case? I understand that the legal system is not there to dispense the law, and not justice. However, I feel there really is a need to foster a system that looks at the (alleged) offender rather than the offence, and where necessary uses prison not as the centrepiece of a criminal justice response, but invests in alternative community based responses.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth January 22, 2014 at 5:14 pm

In view of the judge’s subsequent comments, I don’t understand your grounds for supposing that a prison sentence might have been imposed.

It is always open to a judge to conclude that a defendant has suffered enough, and impose a conditional or even absolute discharge. Or at least it always used to be.

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Eddie Kaye January 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Good point Mike, as I understand, the judge made the comments after the trial, and the defendant had accepted the possiblilty of a 9 month sentence had she been found guilty. More to the point, she did say that the main worry was a possible guilty verdict itself.

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Ray_North January 22, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Mike is right – Judges must have a discretion and most will use it properly (though sadly, with the increase in proscribed sentencing, and increased scrutiny by the right wing press, some are being discouraged from using their discretion in favour of more ‘lenient’ sentences).

There is also the problem here that is intrinsic within the offence of causing death by careless driving, in that there is no criminal intent on behalf of the defendant, yet, the effect of their ‘carelessness’ is absolutely catastrophic, so you have a situation, where the defendant has very low culpability, yet, massively high harm – thus any sentence is going to be seen as unfair by one side or the other.

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Eddie Kaye January 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Agreed Ray. My point is though why the need for ‘sides’? Surely justice is not measured in terms of getting results for the victim. It is my opinion that adversarial justice such as we have creates peripheral victims. For example a child or dependent of someone in prison. Yes there needs to be a response, and yes society can only function by laws. However, my contention is with the current narrative that measures justice by how much harm is done to the offender, rathrr than how much they take responsibility for their actions. To that end in many cases, prison is not the answer. Try telling that to the tabloids.

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