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News roundup week ending 13 June 2014

Charlotte Rowles

By Charlotte Rowles on 11/06/14

News roundup week ending 13 June 2014
6 June 2014

Jonathan Brown in The I newspaper reports on the Lockerbie case. 

Bid to clear Megrahi of Lockerbie. 

The family of the only man convicted of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing have joined forces with relatives of those who died in the atrocity in a bid to clear his name. 

Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahidied from cancer in 2009 died in Libya three years after being released on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government in 2009. He had earlier dropped an appeal which sought to overturn his conviction for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in which 270 people died. 

Yesterday six members of the former intelligence officer’s family and 24 British relatives submitted an application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission seeking to review the case in what their lawyers have described as the “worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history”. 

If successful the case could be retuned to the High Court. If the verdict is quashed, no one will have been found guilty of the terrorist outrage. The families claim that Megrahi was pressurised by ministers into dropping his appeal.

9 June 2014

BBC News Website reports on a Panorama film called Justice for Sale. 

Experts court Witnesses 'ignored clients guilt'. 

An undercover Panorama investigation has found some paid expert witnesses prepared to provide helpful court reports despite a client's confession.

Only one of nine expert witnesses approached did not want to get involved after the reporters admitted "guilt".

They included animal expert Prof Barry Peachey who suggested a false defence for a reporter who "confessed" to interfering with a badger sett.

He later insisted his report was truthful and accurate.
Expert witnesses produce reports for use in court whenever specialist knowledge is required. They are bound by ethical duties and legal rules, which state their reports should be independent and impartial, even though they are often paid for by only one side or the other.Their reports should include all relevant information provided by the client.

Secret filming

Four of the expert witnesses Panorama approached provided court-ready reports. All were caught on camera flouting the rules. One was animal scientist Prof Barry Peachey, who specialises in the law protecting badgers.

The reporter told him he had deliberately put a dog in a sett in pursuit of a badger, an offence that can carry a six-month jail sentence. He said he feared he had been filmed by a passer-by and could face prosecution.

During the secret filming, Prof Peachey acknowledged the reporter had broken the law.

"What you've done and what they can prove are two entirely different things," he told him. He continued: "Your defence is that this was a pure accident… You were walking your dog along and the dog suddenly saw a badger and dived down a hole and all you were trying to do is get it back."

He then produced a report for use in court, which correctly described the badger sett as active, but which also set up the false defence by saying the sett was not visible to the casual passer-by.
Prof Peachey also said he would be willing to give evidence in court saying that it was "highly likely" the dog entered the sett by accident.
In total he charged £2,223 for his report.

He said his report was truthful and accurate and he had no financial incentive not to tell the truth. He said the facts of the incident had not been made clear and he would never lie in court.


Undercover reporters also approached two handwriting experts, confessing that they had written an anonymous, threatening note but wanted reports to cast doubt on their guilt.

Simone Tennant, a graphologist, ignored some evidence that would have been unhelpful to the reporter and concluded that the authorship of the note was "inconclusive". She did not respond to Panorama's findings.

The other expert, Michael Ansell, a former deputy head of the Metropolitan Police's document section, said that there was "strong evidence" the reporter had not written the note.

He later said although he heard the reporter say he had written the note, he did not think he meant it. Neither expert mentioned the reporters' confessions in their reports.

Timothy Dutton QC, former chair of the Bar Council and an expert in legal ethics said it was comparatively rare to encounter experts who sought to subvert the rules.

He added: "Nevertheless, seeing these examples is surprising and in each of these instances it seems to me that the breaches of duty are, had they been carried through into the court process, very serious."
As an industry, expert witnesses are subject to very limited regulation and there are calls for greater powers to police them.
Last year, the Ministry of Justice rejected a proposal from the Law Commission to bring in a new law giving courts greater powers of scrutiny of expert testimony.
However, Justice Minister Damian Green said: "Rules for criminal courts are being tightened and changed so judges are provided with more information at an early stage about any expert evidence being used, giving them the opportunity to challenge anything inappropriate."

Watch Panorama, Undercover: Justice for Sale? on BBC One on 9 June at 19:30 BST.

10 June 2014 

Rick Muir in the Guardian writes on a series about restorative justice. 

Restorative justice can help heal relationships broken by crime. 
We need to reform the justice system to bring redress for victims and to involve local communities in the punishment of minor offences. 

The criminal justice system does not provide positive relationships or role models for offenders that are vital to prevent crime. 

Crime is both a cause and a consequence of a breakdown in relationships. A lack of positive family and wider social relationships very often lies behind offending behaviour: 30% of boys in custody have been brought up in care, 76% of children in custody have had an absent father, and 53% of women and 27% of men in custody have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child. Crime itself damages relationships, harming victims, but it also fosters insecurity and a sense of powerlessness within communities.

Yet our criminal justice system does very little to repair the relationships that are damaged by crime and social exclusion. In a system of public law, crimes are formally committed against the law of the land rather than against the victim. While this takes punishment out of the arbitrary realm of private vengeance, it marginalises the victim.

We should give every victim a right to restorative justice, where an offender accepts guilt. In practice it means a face-to-face or written apology, followed by financial or in kind reparation. For low-level first-time offences, such as shoplifting and vandalism, this could be imposed instead of a time-consuming caution. For more serious or repeat offences, restorative justice could run alongside formal sanctions. Restorative processes have been proved to reduce reoffending and enjoy high levels of victim satisfaction.

We also need to do more to involve the community in the formal justice system. The distance between the courts and the public is one of the reasons the public lack confidence in the system: people generally perceive judges to be much less punitive than they actually are. What's needed are neighbourhood justice panels in every part of the country, involving local residents in facilitating restoration and punishment for low-harm offences. The criminal justice system does not give offenders the positive relationships and role models criminologists regard as critical to preventing crime. The exception is youth justice, where young offenders are generally allocated a key worker and where multi-agency teams can take a holistic approach to helping a young person turn their life around. This should be replicated for offenders aged 18-21, who should be placed under the responsibility of the local youth offending teams.

It is time to reframe our criminal justice system so that it provides direct reparation for victims, involves local residents in dealing with low-harm offences and gives offenders the positive relationships that will help them desist from crime.