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Treatment of victims and familys in the justice system

Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
There's been some interesting follow up articles in the media after the Milly Dowler trial. One example being http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13905808 , but there are plenty around.


Anyone got any thoughts as to whether this is a one off issue with the particular circumstances of this case, or is it a more general issue?

Comments

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    It isn't an issue at all. Or at least it shouldn't be stopped, whatever the tabloids tell us.

    The only person who faced having their rights removed was the defendant and that's why his rights are paramount. Millie's parents have lost no rights at all, never faced losing any, they are still free and wuold have been whatever was said in court.

    Whilst I think what he instructed his legal representative to do was abhoreent at best, they had no choice to follow those instructions. He has the right to present whatever defence he thinks will get him off. That is sacrosanct.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I guess there's a difficult line to understand when the defendant gets found guilty, but still gets their rights protected whilst being given the perfect platform to shit stir and cause further distress to a victim/witness/relatives.

    Although I don't know how you'd reconcile that with innocent until proven guilty, unless you banned reporting on cases until after the verdict.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Doesnt matter if reporting on cases was banned, the family still would have been subjected to the same cross examination.

    I see no major issue here, what happens when a family member of a victim who is providing evidence turns out to be involved, or provides some evidence that that defendant is infact innocent?

    The way the media is portraying this issue is that victims family were not provided support and help through the trial. What infact has happened is that the family members of the victim were cross examined in the same way that anyone else could have been.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But is that the way we should really be treating victims family members and witnesses? Made to feel that they are the ones in the wrong - required to attend court when their witness slot comes up? When the defendant gets to chose?

    I'd also suggest that while being cross examined is bad enough, knowing that all the details are going to be in the national media is even worse.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But is that the way we should really be treating victims family members and witnesses? Made to feel that they are the ones in the wrong - required to attend court when their witness slot comes up? When the defendant gets to chose?

    I'd also suggest that while being cross examined is bad enough, knowing that all the details are going to be in the national media is even worse.

    You forget that some times the victims family members can be involved in the crime. As for the media thing, its the same as with superinjunctions, it isnt the behaviour or actions how how people have been treated, its the media that needs dealing with.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    In this case, the media were fairly accurately reporting what was happening in the court - with relatively little spin, so I'm wary to leap on the blame the media band waggon for this one.

    Sometimes the victims family members may be involved in the crime, but surely it's not the point of the trial to prove that. The way the court system treats its witnesses makes them feel like the ones on trial - is that really fair?

    Saying that the victims family were cross examined in the way anyone else could have been doesn't actually make it any better though. Should anyone have been treated like that?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Words can and often do hurt people, but unless we have some kind of overhaul of the justice system, this will happen to anyone, no matter if they're related to a victim in some way.

    As for the media, I think I was trying to make the point that its only been a story because the papers have made it one. Defendants are entitled to a robust defence, and it is often the case that people are found innocent of crimes because of a robust defence.

    If you had to pick one option out of the two, what would you choose, that family members of victims are treated in the best way they can be, or defendants having the right to a robust defence?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I don't think that there's necessarily and either/or option. It's not necessarily impossible to achieve both, or at least get closer to achieving both than we currently do.

    I also don't see why needing to overhaul the justice system to improve something should immediately be a reason not to consider it. It could even be that you don't necessarily need to overhual the justice system and that basic steps like treating witnesses as human beings with lives and providing suitable support throughout could be a good step in the right direction.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    You can have all the support in the world, but if I was accused of a crime I didn't commit, I can honestly say that my feelings and the line of questioning I'd direct my council to take would never compromise the integrity of my argument to be "nice" to other witnesses just for the sake of it.

    That might make me sound like a complete cnut, perhaps more support does need to be provided to all witnesses both prosecution and defence, but a trial is all about either freeing or committing the accused and both defence and prosecution may have to robustly question people. Whilst treatment of witnesses is important, the trial is happening to decide as I mentioned above, if someone is innocent or not, not to have witnesses feelings as a primary focus.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    The only person who faced having their rights removed was the defendant and that's why his rights are paramount. Millie's parents have lost no rights at all, never faced losing any, they are still free and wuold have been whatever was said in court.
    .

    I think you are going on a very narrow definition of rights...

    I'd say Milly's rights were removed, as were her parents

    In fact given that he was already in jail for life his rights had already gone...

    However, I'm torn on this one. As you say his right to a defence shouldn't be removed and much as it sticks in my gut, I can see the logic of the defence raising the father's BDSM fetish - if only to try and plant in the jury's mind the idea that her father was a sexual pervert who killed her. I'm glad it failed, but I can see the point.

    I don't see how it could have helped his defence by airing some of her teen difficulties in court. However, my understanding is that Judges can step in and stop particular questioning if its not relevant. So it seems like better application of the law rather than a change in the law itself

    There may be a case for evidence like this being held in private or the press being forbidden to report, but then that causes the problem of justice not only needing to be done, but seen to be done.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    A judge has and will most likely always have the ability to stop a line of questioning if he sees little or no relevance to it. Yes some distasteful things might have been brought up, but still bore some relevance at least.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    There may be a case for evidence like this being held in private or the press being forbidden to report, but then that causes the problem of justice not only needing to be done, but seen to be done.

    Firstly, I agree with you that the parents' rights had been compromised by the death of their child and it is easy to see further distress being caused to them - for whatever apparently decent reason - as deeply unfair.

    On your last point; the press ought not be arbiters of justice, that is what judge and jury are for. I'm not sure absolute disclosure of court proceedings in cases like this does anyone any favours.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    piccolo wrote: »
    On your last point; the press ought not be arbiters of justice, that is what judge and jury are for. I'm not sure absolute disclosure of court proceedings in cases like this does anyone any favours.

    I'm 50:50. I don't think its so much the press being arbiters of justice, but that I think it is important court cases are open and are seen to be open, rather than being held in secret behind closed doors. That said, I do wonder, whether in cases like this the judge should be able to say we're going to take a few bits of evidence behind closed doors. of course on the other hand if he did hold it behind closed doors people would be wondering what was said and whether there was evidence and decisions being taken which would compromise the impartiality of justice.

    Which is a all a long winded way of saying, "I don't know."
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think you are going on a very narrow definition of rights...

    I'm talking about the right not to be imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit.
    I'd say Milly's rights were removed, as were her parents

    In Millie's case, the person whom removed those rights should be incarcerated for doing so. Apparently this has now happened. What rights did her parents have in this legal case? Justice for their daughter's death - well that's been done. The right not be implicated, well that doesn't exist.

    In fact given that he was already in jail for life his rights had already gone...
    However, I'm torn on this one. As you say his right to a defence shouldn't be removed and much as it sticks in my gut, I can see the logic of the defence raising the father's BDSM fetish - if only to try and plant in the jury's mind the idea that her father was a sexual pervert who killed her. I'm glad it failed, but I can see the point.

    So can I. The defence also sticks in my gut. However, I prefer a system that allows him to try any defence, and be found guilty by his peers, than one where certain lines of defence are excluded because it might upset someone.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I'm talking about the right not to be imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit..

    But that's not what you said
    What rights did her parents have in this legal case? Justice for their daughter's death - well that's been done. The right not be implicated, well that doesn't exist.

    Right to privacy and right to a family life are their rights - both of which were taken.

    Now, there is no right not to be investigated, but I remain unconvinced that all the information aired in court about their daughter and her relationship with her parents should have been aired. Quite rightly we say questioning about a victims sexual history in rape cases shouldn't happen unless it's off direct relevance, I can;t see why questions about how happy Millie was at the time and whether her relationship with her parents was at times strained our relevant to the defence and they should have been stopped.

    So can I. The defence also sticks in my gut. However, I prefer a system that allows him to try any defence, and be found guilty by his peers, than one where certain lines of defence are excluded because it might upset someone

    I agree relevant lines of defence should be allowed. I think the key word is 'relevant'
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    However, I'm torn on this one. As you say his right to a defence shouldn't be removed and much as it sticks in my gut, I can see the logic of the defence raising the father's BDSM fetish - if only to try and plant in the jury's mind the idea that her father was a sexual pervert who killed her. I'm glad it failed, but I can see the point.

    Given that the father wasn't on trial, how was that relevant to the case? I thought the father was cleared ages ago?

    I'm sure there was a case in Wales not so long ago, where a young lady was killed and they tried to blame her boyfriend.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Melian wrote: »
    Given that the father wasn't on trial, how was that relevant to the case? I thought the father was cleared ages ago?

    I'm sure there was a case in Wales not so long ago, where a young lady was killed and they tried to blame her boyfriend.

    Because the defence was trying to plant an idea in the jury's head that someone else did it. It doesn't matter whether or not the police cleared him, the police can make mistakes (as this case also showed)
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I guess to a certain extent it comes down to the age old question of who's rights trumps who's?

    One which no one seems to have managed to resolve yet. I would seriously question whether a lot of the questioning in this trial was relevant, but then I guess when the case has in some ways so very little evidence defining 'relevant' would always have been difficult.

    That said, I'm not sure our justice system is getting things right when trials cause as much distress as they seem to for victims and families. Part of that possibly comes from media coverage, part of it possibly comes from the completely sterile treatment that people are given by the systems involved.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    If we in any way restrict a defendants ability to defend themselves, then no matter how crazy the line of questioning might seem to the outside world, could a defendant not demand a retrial because certain lines of questioning were not allowed? Therefore putting families through more pressure and costing a lot more money as well.

    As for melian's comments above
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jun/22/welsh-schoolboy-killed-girlfriend-court-told

    The Welsh school boy who is alleged to have killed his ex gf for breakfast.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But that's not what you said

    Isn't it? I thought my argument was that he could lose rights. Isn't that one? Certainly no-one else in the court was under that threat.
    Right to privacy and right to a family life are their rights - both of which were taken.

    For the family life one, a man is now serving a life sentence. That's how the justice system works. Provacy is a tough one, everything raised came from police investigation into a murder. He didn't raise anything additional - that couple had freely provided that information.
    I remain unconvinced that all the information aired in court about their daughter and her relationship with her parents should have been aired... I can;t see why questions about how happy Millie was at the time and whether her relationship with her parents was at times strained our relevant to the defence and they should have been stopped.

    Reasonable doubt.

    I can see what he was trying to achieve - Could it be that she was unhappy, rowing with her parents, Dad was ashamed of his "secret" and killed her to try and hide it. Not unheard of by any means. Thankfully the jury didn't buy it. It was a fair, although abhorrent, line of questionning.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Does that make the bigger picture ok though? Keeping the family apart for the first few days of the trial, and more generally, asking witnesses to put their lives on hold for the duration of a court case?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Much like jurors have to put their lives on hold for the duration of a trial.

    Witnesses having to put their lives on hold for a while is insignificant to potentially making an error in letting a guilty man free or sending an innocent man down.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Is it really? I suspect that there are plenty of witnesses who would argue the toss the other way around - especially by the time a case gets to court and they've been messed around by the 'justice' system several times over already.

    And does it need to happen the way it does?

    Jurors get reasonably good information at the start of a trial as to how long it's likely to last, and are kept very up to date on what's going on. Witnesses don't get that kind of treatment.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Witnesses are there to provide evidence as a witness and ideally should know as little as possible about the case, other than what directly involves them.
  • Indrid ColdIndrid Cold Warming up? Posts: 16,688
    I can see why people (the family, in this case) would be distressed but I don't think there's a better way to do it.
    If the defendant is guilty and is to be convicted, the jury have to be convinced he/she is. If the possibility has been raised that someone else (or the victim themselves) did it, it has to be disproved before the defendant can be found guilty. In order to disprove it any evidence to the contrary has to be shown and witnesses questioned.
    Witnesses, in turn, might also be lying. Prove to me that the girl's parents didn't kill her themselves and are trying to blame somebody who's innocent for this particular crime. You can't prove it; it's the court's job to do it. And since a (reliable) truth detector hasn't been invented, the only way to do it is to question them extensively.
    In the end, it comes down to whether they really want their daughter's killer to be convicted (both for "revenge" and to protect possible future victims) or they'd just rather be left alone. It's unfortunate, but it can't always be both ways.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    G-Raffe wrote: »
    Witnesses are there to provide evidence as a witness and ideally should know as little as possible about the case, other than what directly involves them.

    That doesn't really apply to the way this case was handled though - does it?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Intresting perspective in the Guardian today.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I :heart: Deborah Orr

    Sheis so intelligent and produces such nuanced, balanced arguments and even when she disagrees she always come in and is so polite and reasonable.

    I just can't work out how she writes for the same paper as Monibot, Toynbee and John Harris who all seem to thinkl that if you disagree with them you are actually being paid by big business or the Tory party...
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    It's a good article, one which would have been better before the recent Clarke proposals were voted on. However, the argument isn't really relevant to this case. Bellfield was always facing life inside, with or without a guilty plea.
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