Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Justice can't be done in secret

I recommend Damiel Finkelstein's article in the Times today, Justice can't be done in secret. And here's why

"This week in times2, my colleague Camilla Cavendish has been telling some terrible stories of children taken from their parents without good reason and adopted against their will, never to be returned. And all in secret. Not a word to be published...the secrecy is a scandal.

On April 19, 1989, a young woman jogging in Central Park, New York, was attacked. That understates it. She was brutally beaten and raped...

About ten years after being sentenced for his part... Kharey Wise met a man in prison, another New York rapist, called Matias Reyes. And the more Reyes got to think about it the sorrier he felt for his new friend. For Reyes knew something that the police and the courts did not... The confessions were coerced, as the young men had claimed for years. How did he know it? Because he, Matias Reyes, had really raped and beaten the Central Park Jogger... he moment that Reyes confessed, it was clear that he was indeed guilty. His DNA was linked to the rape...

Yet the prosecution lawyer in the original case refused to accept this. She was furious. She stridently opposed the finding of the DA. So did the New York Police Department. They convened a panel that concluded that the police had done nothing wrong...

It is commonly thought that we have theories and that they are tested by the facts. The opposite is true. We have theories and then we strive mightily to fit the facts into them, ignoring those that don't quite work or reinterpreting them if we have to. The more we have at stake emotionally, the more pressing this task becomes."

I'm sure few people understand this as well as Shirley McKie and her family. As Michael Russell says:

"There can now be no doubt at all that the evidence offered against Shirley by the authorities at the time of her trial was false. There were no possible grounds for believing that the fingerprint at the crime scene was hers. That has been attested to by finger print experts from across the world...

Over recent months and years both Shirley’s father, Iain, and myself have written on many occasions to the Lord Advocate (Scotland’s Chief Prosecutor) and to the Scottish Justice Minister . We both became increasingly frustrated at the total lack of response to our enquiries.

Throughout this case, it has become obvious that political pressure coupled with media attention, are the most effective weapons when democratic institutions become arrogant or defensive.

I am still concerned that the oppressive and unjustified police behaviour against Shirley at the time of her arrest and subsequently has not yet been explained, still less apologised for. Responses to me from Strathclyde Police have been evasive and unsatisfactory.

There is also little sign that the question of possible perjury by witnesses at the trial is being seriously addressed. Nor is there any official willingness to acknowledge that Ms McKie suffered unjust treatment at the hands of the Scottish Criminal Records Office. Without an apology there can be no real acknowledgement of what has actually happened, nor any real possibility of moving forward.

In addition there must be substantial concern, given what has discovered over the past months and years, that there may be other cases in which SCRO has dealt with tainted evidence."

Shirley's father, Iain, was tremendously helpful when I wanted to include her story in my book as a seminal example of how badly things can go wrong when experts make mistakes and the system, within which those experts operate, closes ranks and refuses to acknowledge and make recompense for them, in spite of overwhelming evidence.

Essentially, then, it can be incredibly difficult to get through to people who don't want to know and the resultant consequences are often appalling.

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