Why the current DPP must be replaced with immediate effect and a royal commission on disclosure is urgently needed [with postscript]

By Dr Michael Naughton, Reader in Sociology and Law (University of Bristol Law School and  School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS)).

Last Thursday (18 January 2018), the Director of Public Prosecutors (DDP), Alison Saunders, made the remarkable statement on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that ‘no innocent people are in prison because of failures to disclose vital evidence, despite admitting there is a “systemic issue”.

Whatever her precise intentions, there is little doubt that the most senior prosecutor in England and Wales’s wilful refusal to acknowledge the reality of miscarriages of justice and that innocent people can be and are wrongly convicted and imprisoned only stoked the burgeoning crisis in the existing disclosure regime that governs alleged criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Variously described as ‘ill informed’, ‘complacent’ and ‘part of the current problem’, in this blog I critically evaluate the DPP’s statement in the context of her duties under the terms of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the perennial problem of miscarriages of justice and wrongful imprisonment in England and Wales.

Moreover, in the context of a growing lack of confidence in the DPP and the disclosure regime in alleged criminal investigations and prosecutions, I will make the case that the DPP should be immediately replaced and for governmental intervention in the form of a royal commission to get to the heart of the apparent problems and devise solutions to fix a system that is clearly broken and in urgent need of repair. (more…)

Six myths about the ‘Prevent duty’ in universities

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)

On Harvey Weinstein the Sexual Predator, or Business as Usual

By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

By David Shankbone – CC BY 3.0

The last few weeks have seen the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, renowned Hollywood producer of such award-winning films as Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, moonlighted as a prolific sexual predator. A significant number of women have now made public complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein, including well-known Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein is also reportedly facing allegations of rape. His wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, the company he co-founded fired him, and police on both sides of the Atlantic have opened investigations into him.

The media discourse that greeted the revelations has been characterised by astonishment at the scale of the alleged offending, and the failure of those making allegations to have come forward sooner. In fact, there is often evidence of a long line of complaints against men who are finally revealed in mainstream media to be chronic sexual predators. In Weinstein’s case there is evidence of three decades of prior complaints by women, at least two of which were reported to police. The public disclosure of these allegations was repeatedly thwarted by the use of non-disclosure agreements, the alleged ‘killing’ of news stories on the topic, and the habitual capacity of those who knew about it to ignore it. In the case of Jimmy Savile in the UK, believed to have preyed unimpeded for 60 years on around 500 vulnerable victims as young as two years old, a 2013 HMIC report found at least seven complaints against Savile in police records since 1964.  (more…)

Righting the Injustices of the Past: The Case of Alice Wheeldon

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

Right – left: Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason, Hettie Wheeldon and a guard, taken when on remand in 1917. © Alice Wheeldon Campaign.

History matters in the context of criminal justice; it matters that our criminal justice system lives up to standards of justice and upholds due process in respect of the past. The strength of support for this view is, for example, shown in the successful campaign to pardon men executed by British Forces during the First World War (the Shot at Dawn campaign).

Miscarriages of justice cases, such as those of the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward, also illustrate the importance of righting the wrongs of the past when it comes to crime. One hundred years ago today another such injustice occurred and efforts are now being made to right this wrong.

At the Old Bailey on March 10th 1917 Alice Wheeldon, her daughter, Winnie Mason, and her son-in-law, Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George along with the leader of the Labour Party Arthur Henderson and other persons unspecified. Alice was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, with Alf receiving 7 years and Winnie 5. Their efforts to appeal were rejected and so they were sent to prison. Alice went on hunger strike, was released early due to ill-health but died of influenza in 1919. Alf and Winnie were released unexpectedly at the end of the war. (more…)