Anonymity no – but accelerated justice is essential

Two legal stories in the past week initially seem only loosely connected, but at the heart of each is a problem linked to the time that it now takes to bring legal cases to a conclusion in England and Wales

Michael le Vell was acquitted of child sex offences following trial at Manchester Crown Court. The jury found the actor not guilty of all charges following four hours of deliberation. The case has re-opened the debate about whether defendants facing sexual offences charges should be entitled to anonymity until found guilty. The arguments are compelling on both sides, but on balance I tend to the view that the interests of justice are best served under the present system

Earlier in the week, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced that the Government was rowing back from the full marketisation of publicly funded criminal defence services that had been the subject of an earlier consultation. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed, and access to justice and service quality will now be the factors governing the award of contracts, rather than tender price

Grayling still needs to make savings, however, to begin to balance the Justice Ministry’s budget, and has ordered a review of the criminal justice system to examine how costs can be stripped out of it. This is where the debate around anonymity for defendants and the legal aid story share a common interest. It is axiomatic in legal circles that justice delayed is justice denied. In essence, the longer cases take to bring to a resolution, the less satisfied with the outcome all the parties become. Victims and their families live with the stress of the impending trial and the anxiety that comes from knowing that they will have to re-live the episode over again in the courtroom before they can hope to achieve any closure. Defendants – especially celebrity defendants – (even allowing for the reporting restrictions that will often govern the specific allegations) will find themselves the subject of ‘dirt-digging’ and lurid speculation relating to other areas of their lives which may or may not be loosely linked to the charges faced. In both cases, the longer it takes to bring the matter to trial, the worse it is for accuser and accused

Equally, the longer the process runs on, the more expensive it inevitably becomes. It is self-evident that a case that is done and dusted in three months will cost much less in investigators’ time, lawyers’ time, court time, and administration than one which runs for six months. In le Vell’s case, he was originally charged in 2011 (charges that were subsequently dropped on the advice of the CPS) before a review in 2012 eventually led to charges in February 2013. It was almost six months’ to the day following the formal charges that he was finally acquitted

For justice to be done, it has to be seen to be done; but for justice to be done effectively, it also has to be seen to be done as speedily as possible. Hopefully, the review body soon to report to the Justice Secretary will be radical and incisive in its recommendations leading to a more cost-effective and just criminal justice system


2 thoughts on “Anonymity no – but accelerated justice is essential

  1. Pingback: Is justice being turned on its head for celebrity defendants? | better out than in

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