Thursday, December 18, 2003

Despite a defense amounting basically to “the cat ate them” it took the Jury in the Soham murder trial five days to find Ian Huntley guilty. Maybe it was the sheer improbability of his story that led to all the confusion. His contention that both girls died by accident one after the other, is so unlikely that it seems pointless to invent. A liar would surely come up with a better lie than that.

It’s fashionable to sneer at juries, but in my experience, they take their duties very seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if they spent a long time mulling over the above conundrum until common sense supervened.

Once the verdict was in, it was revealed that Huntley was the suspect in a long string of previous sexual assaults. Over at Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram wonders why these allegations never got anywhere. They were either withdrawn, or the CPA failed to proceed on them, usually on he said-she said grounds. His worry is that the emphasis on meeting targets means that tough cases are simply not brought to court.

Maybe. A few years back, I was a juror in a multiple rape case which ended in an acquittal by a majority verdict. I voted for acquittal, with serious misgivings. Thgis was mainly because the prosecution was almost incredibly lacklustre. It made no attempt either to investigate the background of the accused, interrogate them purposefully on cross examination or get them to say anything which revealed their general attitude to women. The prosecuting barrister seemed to proceed on the notion that acquittal was inevitable, so she wasn’t going to make too much effort. I don’t know whether this was from a cynicism about juries supposed unwillingness to convict in rape cases or just from cynicism full stop. It could be that at that time there was a big push on to get more rape cases tried and her performance was just a sullen response to what was seen as a politically mandated trial. Whatever, the general malaise over prosecuting sex crimes against adult women seems to go a lot deeper than the CPA.

Even now, I wonder about that verdict. It was probably the single most important decision I will ever make about someone else’s life, and thanks to the prosecution I had to make it without knowing as much as I needed to.