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The Experiences of an Old Man with the Criminal Justice System in the UK.


Magistrates Court

For a case triable only on indictment the Magistrates Court is just a time wasting exercise. The end result is a “committal hearing”. This is simply a transfer of the case from Magistrates Court to Crown Court. The case will however spend months languishing in Magistrates Court while the defendant spends this time languishing in prison.

At each hearing the prosecutor describes in detail the accusations as if they were true facts. There is no use of the words “alleged” or “accused”. The prosecutor phrases the allegations in a manner that suggests he is stating known proven facts. The defendant is not allowed any opportunity at all to rebut the prosecutor’s lies. I find this to be highly offensive: I am forced to sit and listen to a CPS lawyer regurgitate the same lies that my attackers made up. I am not permitted to utter any words in disagreement. This is standard practice, indeed the court bailiffs described this exact situation when advising me of what would happen in the court room.

Bail

Once the system has captured a victim, the amount of control that the victim has over their case depends on whether or not they get bail. This is critical, and the system will try hard to withhold bail. I did not get bail. The first opportunity to apply for bail was at the first appearance at Magistrates Court. At that appearance my solicitor, arranged for by the police, told me that he would not even be asking for bail because it would not be granted. He said that I would only have three chances to get bail, and he did not want to waste a chance. Indeed my solicitors never applied for bail during the entire time that I was held on remand. So all three chances were lost anyway. Later another of my solicitors told me that he would not apply for bail because it was in my best interests to remain in prison in order that I could not be accused of any other crimes. It seems to me that if one takes that argument to its' logical conclusion then the best possible way my solicitor could help my case is to get me life imprisonment. Then I would have an alibi for ever. I find the motives of the solicitors difficult to understand. I suspect that they wanted to keep me at their mercy, unable to fire them and find a better lawyer.

At one hearing in Magistrates Court, a District Judge replaced the magistrates. Although my solicitors did not ask for bail, the judge said that he would not be granting bail “for the usual reasons”. He then elaborated that those “usual” reasons were:

  • That I might intimidate the witness
  • That I might abscond
I fail to see how an old man could intimidate a street gang, and why would I abscond when I owned my own house? The charges against me were not that serious, and in any event the prosecution's case against me was very weak.

While in prison I asked to talk to the Bail Officer. She said that in order to get bail I needed a place to stay. I told her that I owned a house. She said that this was not acceptable because it was too near the home of the thug that had attempted to stick a knife in my body. I offered to stay at a hotel far away. She said that would not work as I needed “support”. I didn't need support, but it turns out that “support” was a code word for useless services that made money for the company that ran the bail hostels. They said that if my home was further away from my accuser I could live in my own home. I offered to buy a house far away. They didn't expect that answer and came up with some nebulous reasons as to why that would not work. They said I could apply for a place in a bail hostel, which would generate profit for the company that runs bail hostels. I agreed. But then they demanded I demonstrate that I could afford the rent. I told them that I had adequate money to pay for it, but I could not access those funds from within the prison. She said that she could not submit the bail hostel application until I produced the money. A Catch-22. It soon became obvious to me that whatever solution was presented to them they would find some reason to shoot it down. So, I reconciled to just stay there in prison at the tax payer's expense even though I had more than adequate resources to pay for accommodation. The system was obstructing my efforts at every turn. Indeed, it seems that the system was determined to prevent me obtaining bail. I believe that this is a technique used by the Criminal Justice System to coerce a false confession. Many of the prisoners that I talked to told me that they were often offered a sentence reduction, or even release in some cases, if they just pleaded guilty. A substantial proportion of criminal cases are resolved in this manner. The System puts the defendants in a situation in which their lives are destroyed on the outside, faced with the loss of jobs, the loss of their homes and possessions, the failure of their businesses, unless they make a false confession and hand the prosecution another score in the win column without the effort of trying the case. This is coercion. Given the conditions that the prisoners must endure if they refuse, it is torture.

Prisons for Profit

I am also deeply concerned by the proliferation of private prisons. These are run for profit. In the United States the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has offered to buy and run state operated prisons in return for a government guarantee that the occupancy rate will not fall below 90%. The state governments involved will make sure that their Criminal Justice System achieves this rate of incarceration by convicting as many people as is necessary. The UK often emulates the United States. Do we want this kind of quota system in the UK? Already there are private prisons in the UK. Even in the state run prisons that appear to be run by HM Prison Service, much of the work is contracted to companies such as G4S and Serco. And these commercial enterprises are authorized to lawfully inflict physical violence, and even death, upon prisoners.

I believe that the UK government is already out of control, corrupt, and a danger to society. We need more rights not less, we need effective measures to protect those rights, and we need to remove the profit motive from the Criminal Justice System.

Crown Court

The Crown Prosecution Service kited my case until the last minute before offering to drop the charges if I “agreed” to a restraining order and destruction of some items of my property. They held me in prison on remand for as long as they possibly could before they were required to present their evidence to the court. They were well aware from the day of my arrest that their case against me was impossibly weak. Judge Peter Jacobs The only independent witness had made a written statement on the day of the incident saying that she did not see an assault and did not see a knife. The only other witness was [Redacted] himself. The tiny scratch on his finger was inconsistent with his account of the incident. The police refused to interview other witnesses regarding earlier attacks upon me by [Redacted] in the company of several members of his gang. Surely if there is a fight between two people in the street, and they each say that the other is the aggressor, evidence of previous attacks by one of them is relevant.

Judge Peter Jacobs presided over all my hearings in Crown Court. He told me that I needed to have some common sense as I was to old to go to prison. I fail to see how any actions that I took on the day of the incident would have been contrary to common sense. I don't know what a person with common sense would do when somebody is trying to plunge a knife into their body, but my reaction was to defend myself. If I had not defended myself then I would not have lived long enough to see prison or court room. I still do not understand the common sense in making an old man the subject of a restraining order in order to protect a street gang.

The Crown Prosecution Service are allowed to keep a case going for months with no evidence to support their scurrilous allegations, then, at the last possible moment, they can simply “offer no evidence”. If I were to prosecute someone, waste their time and money, tie the case up for months, then simply state that I had no evidence, I would expect a hefty adverse costs order to be made against me. I would probably be labeled a “vexatious litigant”, and thus not permitted to issue court proceedings again without special permission from a judge. But the Crown Prosecution Service are not held to this standard. They can kidnap an innocent person, throw them in prison without evidence, and keep them there for months without evidence. Then, when called upon to present their case, they can simply say “we choose to offer no evidence”, and walk away from the horrendous damage they have caused.

The Ethics and Practicality of Plea Bargains

In my opinion the use of coercion and torture to get a confession is always wrong. Any conviction should be based only on evidence; and in a criminal case, only if the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is met. If the Police and Crown Prosecution Service are unable or unwilling to conduct a thorough investigation they should not be allowed to bully and torture a suspect into making a confession.

The concept of voluntary confession is illogical. Why would a person confess to a criminal offence? Guilty conscience? Maybe in a very small proportion of cases, but in real life that is a very low probability event. If the crime was contrary to their personal moral code then they would not have done the crime. If they did the crime, and there is insufficient evidence for a conviction, then it makes no sense to confess. If they refrain from confessing they will get away with it. But, what if they did not do the crime, then why confess? Why would an innocent person confess? Regardless of guilt or innocence it makes no sense to confess.

A person confesses under torture to make the pain stop. A person confesses under coercive forces to prevent unacceptable losses. Neither of these are good reasons to convict someone. Regardless of whether the person is innocent or guilty they should not be forced to confess out of fear of violence against themselves or their loved ones, to prevent destruction of their possessions, to prevent confiscation of their money, or to prevent loss of their jobs or business. A government that uses coercion and torture to force a confession are themselves deplorable thugs.

A plea bargain is just another form of coercion. If the Police and Crown Prosecution Service can prove their case with legitimate evidence then they have no need to offer a plea bargain. Conversely, if the Police and Crown Prosecution Service cannot find sufficient evidence then the suspect should not be convicted. That is precisely why the criminal standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. A plea bargain undermines this fundamental safeguard. It is at least a lazy solution. At worst it convicts an innocent person.

The defendants also reluctantly like plea bargains. When they are locked up in prison they will jump at any opportunity to get out. When they are offered a certainty of a short sentence instead of a possibility of a long sentence they will often consider that the better choice. So, if both prosecutors and defendants like plea bargains, what is wrong with them? In the long run defendants are hurt by plea bargains. The integrity of the courts is destroyed. The system descends into brutality, corruption, incompetence. The correlation between guilt and conviction descends towards zero.




I am soooo fake pre-loading this image so the navigation doesn't skip while loading the over state.  I know I could use the sliding doors technique to avoid this fate, but I am too lazy.