25th April 2021
After every miscarriage of justice there is the question of how the wrong was possibly allowed to happen.
And often the miscarriage comes down to the evidence before the court.
In essence: the court is presented with evidence that [x] is the case, and unless that evidence can be undermined then the court will be satisfied that there is guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The evidence can come from police officers. or from an ’eminent’ expert witness, or (as with the Horizon scandal) an IT system.
In a criminal case a court is presented with substantive (-looking) evidence on one side of the scale and nothing – other than perhaps bare denials – on the other side.
And so the scales tip to one side.
To dislodge such (on the face of it) compelling evidence is a difficult task.
To an extent the situation is alleviated by the obligation of the prosecution to disclose relevant evidence, and not just the evidence on which they are relying on.
To an extent the situation is also alleviated by a prosecutor assessing the soundness of the evidence before bringing any prosecution.
To an extent proper preparation for trial from everyone involved – judge, prosecution, defence – should be a safeguard.
And the main safeguard, of course, is (or should be) the forensic process itself.
Evidence – especially evidence which comes from supposedly authoritative sources – should be relentlessly tested for its cogency.
There should not be mere nodding-along in deference – whether to a police officer, a ‘respected paediatrician’ or a ‘robust’ computer system.
Disclosure exercises are sometimes not easy – or cheap.
A properly resourced prosecution authority is not cheap.
Proper case preparation is not cheap.
And skilled in-court lawyering and cross-examination is not easy – or cheap.
For justice to be served, however, requires all of this is done well – which requires funding and other resources.
Else the court will be prone to placing the wrong weight on evidence before it.
Or as techies put it: Garbage In, Garbage Out.
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