Stephen Lawrence and Harwood

Some 18 years after the killing of a decent young black lad in London, two people are to be put on trial for the offence.  One cannot now rely on having been in front of judge and jury and acquittal.  One of the two has been tried before.  This seems a good thing, though one can worry that it will be abused, as all legal process tends to be over time.

Interesting in this, is the decision to go to trial.  It seems we believe a jury has a good chance of not being influenced against a prosecution by the fact that one of the accused has stood before his peers in the full weight of a police investigation before and been found not guilty.  This perhaps not too difficult when one considers the issue of ‘new evidence’, though we can wonder on the credibility of that after so much time, publicity and the apparent presence of idiots who will come forward for a few days in hotels.  Overall, this is probably a good thing, though we should be looking at its can of worms.

What seems to me fantastic, in reasoning terms, is the decision not to prosecute Harwood in the light of this decision.  While I would like this to have been a matter of a speedy and fair police discipline process (which should also have been the route in the Andrews’ case), the reasoning of the DPP seems farcical.  Harwood was not put on trial, apparently, because the first autopsy provided a barrier to successful prosecution that could not be overcome.  We now know, practically, from the Coroner’s Jury, that this was a mistake.  Most of us knew it was long before this empirical test.  The DPP appears to have decided that a jury would be utterly swayed by evidence from a pathologist about to be struck off (with a history of bungle and police collusion); yet we would not be so swayed by a previous failed investigation and trial.

The underlying problem on Harwood is that police discipline procedures are still not really fair to anyone concerned.  This is part of a wider problem of bureaucracy not being capable of admitting its mistakes or recognising its culture prevents it doing the job with which it is entrusted.  Broadly, the ideal should be that one gets fair and good treatment, notwithstanding how much publicity can be mustered.  Both Lawerence and Harwood suggest this is not true.

That all kinds of issues, including difficulties in working in adverse and violent conditions, are involved in our legal system, is obvious.  These issues need to be brought properly into informed public discussion.  The way forward is not elected police chiefs – look what we get as our MPs!  The way forward is from a secret to open society.  I believe the reason we aren’t allowed this is that most decisions are much easier than supposed and that secrecy as we have it concerns neither national security, competitive advantage nor personal privacy.

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