Tony Blair wants to nix Double Jeopardy protection.
June 25, 2001 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Tony Blair wants to nix Double Jeopardy protection. A right that has been considered vital since the days of the Magna Carta is under threat from Labour. Blair wants to make it possible that "someone acquitted of a killing can be put on trial again if new evidence emerges". Why not just be sure of the case in the first place? This would only cause a rush to trial by unprepared prosecutors.
posted by dwivian (11 comments total)
What's the point? The ones they convict they give them new identities, bank accounts and apartments.

Why not just be sure of the case in the first place?

In a perfect world, this would be great, but most of the time criminals don't leave their wallets at the scene.

Does anyone know the rules of evidence admissability in the UK? The USA is very strict, but I know that European country may not be as strict as us. Italy, I believe, has very liberal evidenciary rules. If the UK were as strict as the US, that might factor into it.
posted by UncleFes at 8:08 AM on June 25, 2001

This bothers me on a much deeper level. The civil rights of citizens of the UK are a castle built on sand.

In the US, our rights are granted by the Constitution, and Congress doesn't have the privilege of changing them unless the Constitution is amended, a very slow and blatantly public process.

But in the UK, comparable rights are granted to the citizens essentially by an act of Parliament, and Parliament can take them away again. The UK has no constitution. (The Magna Carta isn't really relevant; it talks about the rights of the Barons to be secure against the acts of the King, which isn't much of a problem these days.)

Perhaps because my rights are built on a solid foundation, I don't understand why the citizens of the UK are not more concerned about this.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:39 AM on June 25, 2001

The Home Office is also considering reviving controversial plans to limit the right to jury trial and extending indefinitely the right of police to seize the passports of suspected football hooligans - even if they have not been convicted. In certain serious criminal cases, juries could be told of defendants' previous convictions. The authorities would also be given stronger powers to seize the assets of suspected - not convicted - drug dealers and other criminals.

Hmm...sounds very Orwellian to me.
posted by Oddsea at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2001

How remarkably civilised.
posted by Dreama at 9:19 AM on June 25, 2001

The authorities would also be given stronger powers to seize the assets of suspected - not convicted - drug dealers and other criminals.

Isn't that pretty much the state of affairs here in the good old U. S. of A. despite our Constitution?
posted by harmful at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2001

harmful - yes, the War on [Some] Drugs has given police the ability to seize things w/o trial, let alone conviction. The difference is that this can be fought in court and will be thrown out the first time there's a serious challenge. In contrast, if Parliament passes a bill there is no possible recourse other than getting them to change it back.
posted by adamsc at 9:43 AM on June 25, 2001

in the UK, comparable rights are granted to the citizens essentially by an act of Parliament, and Parliament can take them away again.

(Thanks above thanks for using the term 'citizens', given that so many people deploy the 'you're subjects, not citizens' line, which hasn't been the case for the last 20 years.)

But your assertion isn't quite accurate: non-statutory rights can be established in common law, and once established, can only be revoked by statute or by judicial overrule. (The same common-law precedents, in fact, that are cited by the Supreme Court time and again in assessing the 'intent' of the Framers: for instance, in determining a legally 'unreasonable' search or seizure in the late 1700s.)

That said, such common-law rights are, as you'd imagine, particularly fragile, should you have as authoritarian a government as the current one. And this is exactly the case with the assault on the principle of double jeopardy, the Terrorism Act, the restriction of trial by jury, and countless other assaults on civil liberties. At least with the passing of the Human Rights Act, there's going to be a lot of work for civil liberties lawyers in the next couple of years. Including, of course, the Prime Minister's wife. Although Harriet Harman QC, the Solicitor-General, ought to be ashamed of the about-face she's performed since her days at Liberty.

This kind of Daily Mailism is the main reason I no longer consider myself politically aligned with Labour, and why I support Charter 88.
posted by holgate at 10:18 AM on June 25, 2001

There are some cases (OJ) where you would love to revoke the Double Jeopardy and try again even here in the US. But you can see what would happen in the aggregate. Not only would prosecutors rush to trial, they would be free to begin multiple trials against a person

While the government has nothing but time, the individual has a life, and even an innocent would eventually be forced to plea-bargain in order to end the legal bills and time away from work.

No, we can't reverse this. Cases like OJ are the exception, and they are the price for a free society. The very little saving grace is that real criminals tend not to be able to stop, so if they are aquitted of one crime, chances are there will be another chance.
posted by brucec at 11:26 AM on June 25, 2001

> The UK has no constitution.

Well, um. It doesn't have a particular written document in a glass case that Brits et al. can point to as "the Constitution." It does have an immense body of practice and precedent, some of it going back to Saxon times, that acts as a constitution and is described in immense volumes on "British Constitutional History."

There's no one single way to alter the British Constitution, as there is for the U.S. Scotland's acquiring a Parliament of its own a few years back was a constitutional change. Queen Victoria's failing to exercise a number of the constitutional powers of the monarchy for many years changed the British constitution also; those powers effectively no longer exist.

The entity that serves Britain as a constitution has a lot more legal inertia than mere statute law does; still, not having a written constitution would make me distinctly nervous, especially when something like Blair's double jeopardy brainstorm comes along. Defending a written constitution is hard enough -- as for instance when we encounter judges capable of reading "Congress shall make no law regarding gerbil habitats" and concluding "This means Congress can regulate gerbil habitats."
posted by jfuller at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2001

Right now, the best hope for an effective challenge to these proposals comes from the judiciary itself, which has proved a worthy defendant of civil liberties (and the integrity of the common law) over the last ten years. But that's offset by the knowledge that the power to appoint judges rests with His Eminence Derry Irvine, a man who embodies the non-separation of powers by being

a) unelected
b) speaker of the House of Lords
c) a member of the executive
d) head of the judiciary.

Oh joy of joys.
posted by holgate at 12:16 PM on June 25, 2001

Also, given the kind of cases that would be retried under this law, and the trial-by-tabloid that already goes on in high-profile cases, I can't see any hope of there being a fair trial. Imagine being a juror in a case where the defendent is hauled back to the dock after being acquitted, say, ten years ago. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they made the retrials a judge-only affair, since they regard juries are eminently dispensible.)

Hard cases make bad law. And this is a bad law that's meant to address hard cases.
posted by holgate at 12:38 PM on June 25, 2001

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