DPP and justice in the dock after U-turn on Lord Janner
Alison Saunders is standing firm this week despite calls for her resignation in the wake of a decision that Lord Janner should be prosecuted for 22 charges of child sex abuse — contrary to her earlier decision. In a round of carefully placed media interviews the director of public prosecutions (DPP) insisted that the reversal of her decision reflected well on the working of the victims’ right of review.
The case was “an extremely difficult and borderline case because of the strong arguments on both sides,” she said. “I have also always emphasised my concern for the complainants in this case.” She understood their need to be heard, hence asked that they could give evidence to the child sex abuse inquiry under Justice Goddard. “However, the review has concluded that this forum, albeit a public one, cannot substitute for the adjudication of the courts.”
Leading QC David Perry, who reviewed the DPP’s decision, agreed that there was sufficient evidence to charge Lord Janner; that he would be held unfit to stand trial and that a likely outcome of a “trial of the facts” was an absolute discharge. Where they differed, says Andrew Smith, a lawyer with Corker Binning, was the purpose served by such a trial. While Mr Perry seems to have reasoned that such a trial had an inherent value and would serve the public interest despite any outcome, the DPP position was “that the outcome does not justify the process”.
The fact that their positions were so close shows why calls for the DPP to resign are misplaced, he adds. “It is not as simple as saying that the courts should hear the evidence and form their own judgments. Our criminal justice system needs a DPP willing to take independent (and sometimes courageous) prosecutorial decisions, and who will not defer to the courts to take the most difficult decisions on her behalf.”
A “trial of the facts” will, though, give alleged victims their day in court — even if, as spiked, the online current affairs magazine, sees it as “a senile old lord is being subjected to a show trial” to bring “emotional satisfaction to the complainants” and therapy put “before justice and the truth”. On either view, however, it is unarguable that without repeated failings by police and prosecution, this quasi trial at a late stage would not be on the cards in the first place.
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