Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Due process

The Ched Evans affair rumbles on as he continues to protest his innocence despite the verdict of the court.  I don’t know the truth of that; courts can get it wrong, of course, but they don’t get it wrong anything like as often as often as those convicted claim.  The bigger question is about his putative return to football.  The lawyers always say that concentrating on individual cases makes for bad law, and that’s a fair starting point – so I’m not really going to comment on the individual case except insofar as it illuminates a more general problem.
There is a principle in law that once people have served their sentence, they should be rehabilitated, but it isn’t an absolute principle – there are a number of agreed exceptions.  The most obvious example is that sex offenders have to remain on the register for a period, and are, in general, barred from certain roles, such as working with children – often for life.
So there’s nothing particularly exceptional about a demand from some quarters that an individual should not return to a high profile rôle where he or she acts as a rôle model after committing certain types of crime.  And if that opinion is held as widely as it seems to be, then there is certainly a case to be made for legislation to enshrine that in law.  It’s something that I’d support, and something which has a great deal of relevance to the current case attracting attention.
Changing the law would enable proper consideration to be given to trying to draw up a set of definitions and rules which govern which jobs and which crimes would be covered, or at the very least creating a ‘due process’.  It’s probably impossible to arrive at a precise definition which covers all circumstances, but the usual way around that is to give discretion to the judges when sentencing those found guilty.  That approach also allows for the possibility of appeal and review.
The alternative to making it part of law, and allowing the judge to decide, is that individual cases become the subject of individual extra-judicial decisions, driven by the media and public anger.  No matter how much I agree with the stance taken by so many in the particular case, I can’t help but wonder whether this isn’t closer to being a form of mob rule than the application of due process.
It is, of course, much easier for politicians to join in the hue and cry – in what is close to the original sense of the phrase – than it is to initiate complex and probably contentious legislation; but isn’t initiating legislation when required what they are there for?  And isn't joining in the hue and cry effectively abdicating their responsibility to set proper rules?

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon, I think your post is most measured in this sad case, which has been boosted as it has all the elements that sell newspapers – sex, football and exploitation.
Courts have a real problem in getting to a verdict of beyond reasonable doubt, as the only slam dunk case would be proven virgin falling from that state of grace after an encounter. I have read from case reports that she had sex with Ched`s friend minutes before and he was the one that called him over. Add to that the fog of alcohol – who knows what went on.
What is interesting is to give the story even more legs the media gave him a tag of “ the convicted rapist Ched Evans” ,will this start a new trend when certain Lord will be called “ the convicted fraudster Lord xxxxx” or even “the self-confessed adulterer Paddy Ashdown” .