British justice's shaky history

The quashing of Barry George's conviction for the murder of Jill Dando puts the spotlight back on th

Barry George's success in winning his appeal against conviction for the murder of Jill Dando provides a timely reminder about the reality of British 'justice'.

George was famously convicted in 2001 for the murder of BBC presenter Jill Dando.

The case was high profile with the conviction carrying all the classic ingredients for a miscarriage of justice.

A well-known victim and massive media interest generating pressure on the police to come up with a suspect.

George cut a sad figure. Portrayed as a loner with learning difficulties he hardly fitted the profile of what in the early stages was reported to be a professional killer. Despite the unlikelihood of George having done the murder he was convicted and sentenced to life.

Prior to the recent appeal court hearing there was an extraordinary intervention by Dando's former fellow Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross who wrote to the appeal court judges insisting that the "judicial process got the right man".

Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips rebuked the action saying that justice is administered in public and that any submissions should be made in court through the lawyers conducting the process.

The Ross intervention once again underlined the contrariness of the media in miscarriages of justice down the years.

In cases like the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, the media initially played a significant role in fanning the lynch mob-style atmosphere that resulted in the convictions.

Meanwhile they managed little scrutiny of the police investigation.

Yet later, certain parts of the media played crucial roles in freeing those wrongly convicted. The World in Action team who did the docudrama Who Bombed Birmingham, Chris Mullin and journalists on the Independent and Guardian all played crucial roles.

For a time miscarriages of justice were flavour of the month. Programmes like the BBC's Rough Justice and Channel 4 's Trial and Error took up cases that often went on to the appeal court.

In the mid 1990s the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) was set up to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice, created on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (RCCJ) - established in 1991 following the successful appeal of the Birmingham Six.

Sadly, many in the media and political sphere seemed to think the CCRC's establishment solved the problem of miscarriages even though a steady stream of innocent victims continued to make their way through the front doors of the Court of Appeal.

After the Birmingham Six came the Bridgewater Four, the East Ham Two, the Cardiff Three, Judy Ward, Stefan Kisko and Frank Johnson to name but a few.

Notably some of the people recently cleared have served much longer sentences - in the realms of 25 and 26 years - suggesting that it is more a case of justice delayed.

The reality is that there are probably far more miscarriage of justice victims in prison now than ever before. The prison population is more than 80,000. Campaigners have pointed out that if only 1 per cent of that number are unsafe convictions then at least 800 people now in prison could be innocent.

The CCRC does a comprehensive job but it is a slow process and the body is under resourced. Since it began work in 1997, the CCRC has referred 376 cases to the Court of Appeal. Some 236 convictions have been quashed and 102 upheld. The CCRC receive three or four new applications on each working day.

Despite publicity over recent years as to the plight of miscarriage victims, the aftercare and support remains piecemeal. It's almost as if the system wishes to forget they ever existed.

Yet the victims of miscarriages of justice need lots of support if they are ever to get their lives back together again.

Dr Adrian Grounds reported the Birmingham Six had suffered "irreversible psychological damage," similar to the trauma suffered by people who had been in serious car crashes. Few ever work again.

Recently, Jimmy Robinson, who was one of four men wrongly convicted for the murder of paperboy Carl Bridgewater died. He was 73. Released in 1997 after more than 20 years in prison Jimmy had struggled to get his life together again. He had some success but the compensation he received never made up for those lost years.

Dealing with the every day problems of life become traumatic for people who have spent years in prison fighting the system. One miscarriage of justice victim once told me he could deal with all the Home Office could throw at him but not with disputes in his own family.

Miscarriages of justice remain a massive problem for the criminal justice system and society as a whole. The plight of Barry George has briefly brought the issue back into the headlines.

There needs to be more resourcing provided to the CCRC so that it can deal with cases more rapidly.

There also needs to be more attention paid to the aftercare of the victims once they are released from prison.

Finally, it should be remembered that a person convicted of a crime that they did not commit is as much a victim as the old lady mugged on the street.

Paul Donovan writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times