Friday, 15 February 2013

Guilty until proved innocent...

...and even afterwards, quite often.

People used to face a trial before they were pronounced guilty, but not any more. Trial by media has changed all that, especially in paedophile cases. As you've probably heard, a well-known soap actor has just been charged with sexual offences against children; charged and publicly named. So his reputation  will be in ruins, whether or not he's found guilty. Paedophiles, as we all know, are considered the lowest of the low, and once someone is given that label, it will stick, whether deserved or not.

I cannot understand why the identities of these people are diclosed. Surely, in the interests of justice, they should remain anonymous until convicted. It seems to me outrageous that someone should be "named and shamed" (how I hate the expression!) before they are even tried. This man may be guilty - who knows? But until the charges are proved his name should be kept out of the public domain.

19 comments:

  1. That's part and parcel of a fair and equitable legal system. As a general rule the English system of the administration of justice has required
    that it be done in public. Justice must be seen to be done. Of course adverse or prejudicial publicity and reporting can give rise to a breach of Article 6 rights to a fair trial. In criminal law cases (and cases to determine civil rights) Article 6 protects the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other minimum rights for those charged in a criminal case (adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence, access to legal representation, right to examine witnesses against them or have them examined, right to the free assistance of an interpreter).
    The nature of the crime does not mean that there should be different rules.
    Sexual offences are notoriously difficult to prove - and very few actually make it to the stage where the alleged perpetrator is charged.
    I can understand that the social contempt for crimes particularly involving sex offences against children is such that allegations can leave a stain - even when not proven. But the court system ensures that any accused will have all the tools of a fair defence at their disposal.
    I worked in child protection for years - taking cases of child abuse to proof. Very often child witnesses and even older women witnesses face the type of character assasination that you would cry over.

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  2. Stuff like this always sticks. People think 'there's no smoke without fire' and anyone accused will forever be tainted.

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  3. I agree with y.s.s. Nobody charged with a crime should have the right of anonymity. That's the way the rule of law works, and once you start making exceptions for one kind of crime, what next? Journalists? Financial traders? It may seem harsh, but justice has to be blind.
    I'm far more worried about how victims, who (too rarely) elect to be witnesses, are treated within the adversarial court system.

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  4. y.s.s. and Tim, I take your points. I don't have legal expertise, and I do see that trials have to be public. Perhaps I should adjust my remarks and say that what I most object to is the sensationalist reporting of these crimes (or suspected crimes). After all, someone must leak news of these arrests, and certain editors decide they will make a front page story. From then on, the person arrested is labeled, guilty or not.

    I in no way underestimate the damage of sexual abuse. I worked for many years with its victims (adults), and have seen the long-term effects. I have also spoken with paedophiles. A young member of my extended family was badly sxually abused (and very damaged) over a period of time, but his abuser went free because the child was considered too young for his evidence to be accepted (although the family court, his GP and his teachers all believed him). My brother and my son were both pupils in schools where subsequently boys were found to have been sexually abused, and the abusers have been punished (my brother escaped the abuse, as did my son, but only because we became suspicious and took him away).

    So I am as affected as anyone by the sexual abuse of children. But there is a kind of mob hatred aroused against suspected perpetrators of certain crimes, and lives can be ruined (the sad case of the innocent man accused of the fairly recent murder of a Bristol woman is a case in point. He will never completely clear his name).

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  5. Thanks for the clarification, Frances, and I'm 100% with you against trial by media - or rather, by media distortion, exaggeration and over-emphasis. You've entered a huge debate, which has been raging for years, about the boundaries surrounding freedom of speech. I certainly don't know the answer, and can only offer one word - Decency.

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    1. How true. I think decency went out of the window a long time ago!

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    2. Thanks Frances. I agree entirely with you re media coverage. It's contemptible - prurient and vicious and pandering to the lowest common denominator. I've noticed however that coverage in the broadsheets has been sensible and muted and that tabloid reaction hasn't (largely) been as over the top as it could have been.

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  6. Sadly, pedophilia is rampant in Hollyweird. That's not to say that the actor is guilty whatsoever.

    And you're spot on about the media. Many people are tried in the "court of public opinion" and the Pygmalion effect seems to eventually get the better of them.

    Again, sad.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. In my experience, it's rampant, full stop, Tim. How to prevent it is a huge problem.

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  7. It seems to me that some people are more concernedd about what makes great news than what is right. After what happened with Jimmy 'Fixed it' Everyone i.e police etc wants to be seen as doing something. God help anyone who is innoccent.

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  8. I have read several articles in my weekly paper (the ZEIT) about cases of men who were accused of having commited crimes (such as child abuse) and became victims of media-induced hysteria, spending years in prison for something they never did. There is little so tragic than someone who falls victim to the system of justice, and that is true for both alleged offenders and the victims of crimes nobody believes.
    Still, I like to believe that most of what is going on in modern (Western) society in terms of justice is based on the decisions of people who really mean to get to the bottom of each case and are interested in finding out the truth. Sadly, people love a witch-hunt today just as much as they did in Medieval times, and people being people, there will never be such a thing as TRUE justice in any human society.

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    1. I agree, Meike, and it's fuelled by the media.

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  9. I also miss the days when cameras were not allowed in a court of law. Remember the artists who sketched what they saw? That was enough, I think.
    Sometimes, it seems, that witnesses know they are being filmed and are "performing" rather than testifying.
    Just wondering, did you see the post that I did on Ryan Ferguson recently?

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    1. I must have missed that one, Kay. But over here, cameras are still not a. in court, thank heavens, an they still use artists.

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    2. That should have been not allowed! My iPad won't allow me to correct mistakes!

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  10. The New Zealand legal system is based on the English Legal System. Except in specific circumstances, the hearing of all criminal proceedings in all courts is open to the public and the principle of open justice is a key principle in the New Zealand legal system. However there is one very big difference in criminal cases: name suppression which was relatively common until last year.

    Now it is available for victims and defendants in specific sexual cases, the aim being to protect the victim.

    It is available for children under 17 who are complainants or witnesses in criminal proceedings.

    There are also provisions that restrict publication of any proceedings of the Youth Court except with the leave of the court

    Defendants and any other person connected to proceedings (for example, witnesses, victims), at the discretion of the court, subject to certain considerations.

    Being famous used to be one of those considerations and that was one of the big changes made last year. It is no longer a consideration.

    Although I was brought up with and studied the English legal system I have to say that I think the system here in NZ works rather well. Of course the internet has changed things dramatically and it's relatively easy to find the information if one wants to but the media can't publish the names until the court removes the suppression.

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