The belief that the Scales of Justice are balanced when delivering the rule of Law, for me was never previously in doubt, or something to question! I grew up believing that 'good' outweighed 'bad' and criminals, especially violent cold blooded killers, were 'not above the Will of God or beyond the Rule of Law!'
Justice would always prevail...the Law 'rights' the 'wrongs' in Society and punishes the 'wrongdoers!' But, behind this rosy ideology is a stark reality...Justice is not always that straight forward. Sadly, this reality is often the experience of many murder victims' families who find themselves thrown into the bewildering world of the Criminal Justice System. The guilt of a person charged is ultimately decided by a Jury of 12 men good and true, who must consider their decision...'beyond reasonable doubt!' However, some Jury verdicts defy belief, especially an Acquittal that is a 'perverse verdict'. This is where a person is acquitted, against all the evidence presented, pointing to their guilt?
Following the murder of a 'loved-one, there is much to cope with, the arrest and investigation of the killer(s)...the Trial process, the 'media headlines!' Behind those headlines are the victims' families, experiencing 'layers of trauma' by a process that appears to favour the perpetrator(s). The issue of subjudice which means that the 'whys' and 'hows' are withheld from the family, necessary to safeguard the prosecution case. Delays at the hand of the Defendants' right to have second and subsequent 'Post-Mortems'...without regard for the pain this causes, often many months before a precious child and loved-one can be returned for a Funeral Service! Every painful step along the way, the bereaved family become increasingly aware that they feature little in this process!
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) act for the 'Crown...in the interest of the public at large'...suddenly 'one' has become an invisible member of that same 'Public at large?' The sense of impotence is demoralising...a parent's natural desire to care for their child, bring them home, prepare them 'whether in life or in death'...the feeling is overwhelming. Finally, the long awaited Trial date arrives, often a year after the homicide...only to find that 'one' can only observe. Listening to graphic and terrible details about your loved-one's last moments, who has effectively been rendered a 'non-person' in the eyes of the Law...without being able to show emotion!
Then the unthinkable, the worst of all possibilities at the end of the Trial...Acquittal! This verdict, nothing less for the bereaved family than a 'double trauma'. Some say...
"It's as though their loved-one has been murdered twice!"
As explained earlier Acquittals can be 'perverse verdicts' which go against all the evidence presented...Juries do not have to give reasons for how their 'Verdicts' were reached! Furthermore, a 'Not Guilty' verdict can also be the result of technical-type hitches in the legal process. In addition to this, if a Jury are unable to reach a decision, even after a re-trial, the case is terminated and a verdict of 'Not Guilty' is returned?
Figures from the Criminal Law Policy Unit of the Home Office show that every year there are between 125 - 183 families living with an Acquittal of a person accused of the Murder/Manslaughter of their loved-one. At present there is no recourse, support or advice for the victims families. No Appeal process for an unjust Acquittal.
Carole Longe and Ann Roberts both know first hand how an Acquittal adds to the unbearable loss, the sense of injustice as well as the subsequent feeling of isolation at being thrown into a 'legal no man's land'. Society seems to be saying that the 'child you gave life to, brought into the world safely, nurtured into adulthood, can be ruthlessly denied that precious 'life' by a 'killer'...and 'it doesn't seem to matter!' This cannot be right? For me this goes against my understanding of British Jurisprudence, surely every reader will be just as outraged?
Carole's daughter Dr. Nina Longe was murdered in 2000...her killer subsequently Acquitted, against all the evidence...
Ann Roberts son Simon was murdered in 2003, the case terminated after a re-trial. The Jury could not reach a decision and the verdict of 'Not Guilty' was recorded...
Carole and Ann were not offered any appropriate advice, support or counselling...they were left to fight for Justice for Nina and Simon. Fortunately, these two mothers have found an extraordinary inner strength that has led them to become the founders of 'Justice After Acquittal' or JAA to fight collectively to bring about much needed changes to redress the balance. After all the Scales of Justice are supposed to represent balance and equity for all!
The Aims and Objectives of Justice After Acquittal...
The Law to be changed to create an Appeals procedure [as for Defendants found Guilty]...
The Law to be changed to include a 'Not Decided' verdict...
Free Legal Advice to be available for Victims' Families...
To write National Minimum Standards outlining how Victims' Families should be supported by the Criminal Justice System following an Acquittal after a Murder Trial...
JAA believes that there should be a right to challenge an Acquittal verdict in a murder case when the jury has acted unlawfully in Acquitting the accused person. A Jury is a body of persons fulfilling a vital Public function. It must accordingly act lawfully by having an adequate basis for its decision to Acquit. Where a Jury acts irrationally, by Acquitting when any reasonable Jury would have convicted, that Jury acts unlawfully.
At present there is no right to challenge an unlawful Jury verdict, even though it is becoming more and more common for Presecution challenges to Criminal Trial decisions to be allowed in other contexts
In Homicide cases, there should be an overriding concern with getting the right result! A wrongful Acquittal can be just as much a stain on the Criminal Justice System as a wrongful Conviction! This is especially so when that Acquittal results from a Jury's failure to deliver a verdict in accordance with the overwhelming weight of evidence.
JAA do not believe that a change in the Law along these lines would lead to the Appeal Courts being over-burdened with extra work. In so far as there is an additional cost to the system involved, it is heavily outweighed in importance by the paramount interests of Justice in ensuring that those guilty of Murder or Manslaughter are convicted.
If you want support through 'Justice After Acquittal' or want further information, please contact JAA at:-
Justice After Acquittal
PO Box 72
Tel: +44(0)7902 929379
JAA was founded by Carole Longe (BA Hons. Dip, Ed. Cert. Ed. Psychol.) and Ann Roberts (Diploma in Social Work) in 2006. Liaising with Police and the Crown Presecution Service, the organisation also works with other Victims' Organisations to achieve changes in the Criminal Justice System. Justice After Acquittal was officially launched on 24th June, 2008 at the House of Commons - Westminster Hall with the support of Cross Party Members of Parliament...The Rt. Hon. Stephen Dorrell MP (Con) - The Rt. Hon. David Heyes MP (Lab) - The Rt. Hon. Vince Cable MP (Lib. Dem).
How JAA Operates...Justice After Acquittal relies entirely upon the active involvement of it's families, mainly through it's 'Steering Committee' as well as working in partnership with external Agencies in the Public and Voluntary Sector.
Justice After Acquittal - Steering Group Members:-
Carole Longe BA Hons, Dip Ed, Cert Ed, Psychol. - Founder & Joint Chair
Ann Roberts Diploma in Social Work - Founder & Joint Chair
Bryan Roberts - Treasurer
Ann Oakes-Odger MBE
Edward Argar MP for Charnwood
Professor Jeremy Horder Professor of Criminal Law, LSE
Debbie Abrahams MP for Oldham East & Saddleworth
Professor Paul Rock
Dr. Darren Thiel Senior Lecturer Dept of Sociology, University of Essex
Hazel Rowe Crown Prosecution Service
DCI Annmarie Cowley Metropolitan Police Service
The JAA Steering Committee meets twice yearly to oversee and direct Justice After Acquittal.
Case Study: Vikki Thompson was attacked on the 12th August, 1995 and died on the 18th August, 1995. Mark Weston was subsequently charged and Acquitted of her murder. 14 years later...Weston's Acquittal was quashed and he was successfully convicted in December, 2010: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-11987387
Case Study: Finally, after 18 years, some Justice for Stephen Lawrence's family. Stephen Lawrence was 18 when he was stabbed to death near a bus stop in Eltham, South London, in April 1993. Following the Acquittals of Gary Dobson and David Norris being quashed and re-Trials commenced, both men have been successfully convicted of Stephen's Murder on the 3rd January, 2012: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16347953
Retrials/Legal Guidance: www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/retrials/
LAUNCH OF NATIONAL STANDARDS OF SUPPORT (NSS) Support for Families following an Acquittal in Murder Cases
On Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 in a major step forward the National Standards of Support (NSS) was launched at Portcullis House chaired by Edward Argar MP, Alison Saunders - Director of Public Prosecutions, Commander Stuart Cundy - Metropolitan Police Head of Specialist Crime Investigations. The NSS is a series of meetings with the Crown Prosecution Service and Police, working with the family. This provides an opportunity for the family to learn what might have led to the Acquittal, what next steps can be taken and to obtain information about future reviews.
The NSS have been developed by Justice After Acquittal (JAA) working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Service. The launch will officially recognise the national rollout of the standards as good practice across the CPS and Police Authorities throughout the country.
E. & O.E.