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Ensuring justice

ensuring-justice-imageAvoiding wrongful convictions is the bottom line of our system of justice, but there is also an imperative to convict the guilty.

How can this dichotomy be resolved? In fact by far the best way to ensure convictions are safe is prompt reporting.

Where there is forensic evidence, CCTV, circumstantial evidence and recent witness recall it is much easier to gain a perspective as to whether or not the offence really took place and to gauge the respective credibility of the complainant and the defendant.

Even after a few months relevant evidence may be lacking. When allegations go back decades the danger of wrongful conviction is dramatically increased.

While it is understandable that young children may be unable to make immediate reports, many child victims are teenagers with sufficient autonomy to phone Childline or tell a person in authority.

One way of reducing the risks is to introduce a statute of limitations, as is the case in most jurisdictions. This would mean that beyond a certain time limit it would not be possible to prosecute old alleged offences.

A limit of three or five years beyond the alleged offence, or the age of majority in offences against children, would limit the number of stale cases going to trial.

As a safeguard against failing to prosecute compelling historical cases, there could be a proviso allowing the prosecution to satisfy the court that a fair trial was possible because of exceptional independent evidence, such as a DNA match.

Many would argue that such a proposal was unfair to complainants who may take many years before they can come forward.

But it is arguable that people have a public duty to report serious crime, not least because to fail to do so may put others at risk. Furthermore as stated prompt reporting increases the likelihood of a safe conviction, so this is of advantage to genuine victims.