Thursday, 19 January 2012

Response to an earlier post on the Stephen Lawrence trial by Guy Woolnough.

I would like to engage with a few points from this post with which I disagree.  The first claim is that the law on double jeapoardy or “artefois acquit” to give it its legal terminology, was expressly changed to put these two (Norris and Dobson) on trial.  The sections of the Criminal Justice act dealing with double jeopardy came about as a result a recommendation for a review in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and a report by the Law Commission in 2002 responding to that recommendation.
The law wasn’t expressly brought in to put these two on trial, it was hoped that they would be if new evidence was found.  If it were the law would not have contained a “new and compelling” requirement.  It could simply have made all acquittals subject to appeals with lesser criteria, perverse decision for instance (Clive Ponting).
However the idea that double jeopardy was some golden rule running through the justice system is wrong.  There were a number of important exceptions.  One is the retrial following a tainted acquittal (jury or witness tampering) brought in 1996 following a number of high profile cases.  Another is the order of a retrial following a successful appeal by a defendant who has been convicted of a criminal offence.
More importantly and less well known is the ability of a prosecutor to appeal a not guilty finding in the Magistrates’ Court.  Here an appeal is made to the divisional court of the High Court who may set aside a not guilty verdict and remit the case with a direction for a guilty verdict to be entered or remit the case to be retried.  This appeal can be on the grounds that the magistrates have made an error of law or have reached a decision that no reasonable bench of magistrates, properly directed by the court clerk, could have made.
The question to ask therefore is about the fairness of a procedure that allowed relatively minor crimes to be retried (TV license evasion for instance) and yet more serious crimes, such as murder, could only be tried once.  It was an all or nothing gambit for the police and prosecution in which the victim and victim’s family were the ultimate losers.
Another important exception to the artefois acquit rule was given by the Law Commission and it is the rule in Connelly v. DPP [1964] AC 254 in which a defendant acquitted of murder was still able to be tried and convicted for burglary during the course of which the murder was committed, despite the factual situations taking place at the same time and most of the evidence being identical.
One may ask at this point why the defendants in the original trial weren’t prosecuted for GBH or attempted murder following the ruling in Connelly.  The answer lies in the fact that the mens rea for both these offences is the same as murder and would have involved, legally, the same facts and law being retried.
Whilst I am not competent to comment on the Attainder laws there are important differences between the Lawrence case and those alluded to in the earlier post.  There was certainly enough scientific evidence to lead the jury to conclude that Norris and Dobson had committed this crime.  It is beyond all reasonable doubt that they did.  Ex post facto laws may be outlawed by the US constitution but they are certainly not so in the British Constitution, to be sure there is a presumption against interpreting laws in this way that is applied by the judiciary but it is not absolute. 
Two particularly troubling cases suffice to show how laws can have retrospective effect.  The first is the War Crimes Act 1991 which prohibited murder, manslaughter and culpable homicide in relation to offences which violated the laws and customs of war during the World War 2 in German occupied territories.
A second case is that of rape during marriage.  In the case of R. v. R (1991) the defendant sought to argue that he could not be guilty of attempted rape because he was the husband of the victim.  Under common law consent to marriage was deemed to also include implied consent to sexual intercourse as and when required. 

"But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract."
The House of Lords (Judicial) quite rightly overturned this principle as no longer a reflection of contemporary life.  Whilst the law itself was silent on this point social mores had moved on to such an extent that this belief was no longer held by any at the time of the offence.
So Norris and Dobson might not have known that they were going to be tried twice but the interests of justice, as these cases show, sometimes trumps the idea of finality and certainty.  A fact that was persuasive to the Law Commission in its 2002 report.
It is certainly not disingenuous to suggest that case was brought about by new evidence.  It obviously was, since that is the legal test that the prosecution must satisfy in order for a second prosecution to go ahead.  The Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires that the prosecution prove to the Court of Appeal that new and compelling evidence is available and that it is in the interests of justice for a second prosecution to commence.  It is three highly trained judges who make this decision, it is not parliament, public pressure or press outcry.  Those justices in this case examined the forensic evidence and decided it was compelling, new and just to continue.
To be sure such a finding makes it difficult for the defendant to argue innocence in the aftermath.  However there are safeguards, such proceedings are anonymous and are not reported at the subsequent trial.  Whilst the press may publicise the judgement and this could affect the subsequent trial it is not a reason for abandoning the process altogether.  Just because a matter is highly publicised doesn’t mean we should give up on justice, that is what the laws on contempt are designed for.  They prevent the media from prejudicing a trial.
I can definitely agree with the quote:
The positive outcome of this case must be that the police should investigate all serious cases with objective thoroughness from the outset”
Criminal investigation is a serious matter that requires serious and thoroughly professional actions throughout.  It is to the shame of Metropolitan Police that this did not happen, and to all other forces that fail to respect ethnic and cultural diversity.  However to conclude that retrial is about a publicly sanitised lynch mob is wrong and unfair and detracts from the professionalism of the CPS, Police, Judge and Jury in this case from reaching a conclusion that was not based on prejudice but on the “objective thoroughness” of the science of forensic investigation.
Dobson and Norris, no doubt with others, perpetrated a horrendous crime and they should and must pay for their actions and I for one am proud of a legal system that doesn’t close its eyes to injustice. 
Adam Snow is a Ph.D candidate, in the Research Institute for Social Sciences. His project, entitled 'Pay-As-You-Go-Justice? On the spot fines and the future of the Magistracy' is jointly funded by Keele University and the Magistrates' Association. Adam is supervised by Dr Helen Wells, Professor Barry Godfrey and Dr Mary Corcoran.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Stephen Lawrence trial

Most of our blog entries are written by academic staff, however we welcome entries by our postgraduate students.  Here is an interesting personal view linked to criminological history from one of our PhD students, Guy Woolnough.  Responses welcome subject to our editorial control.

The verdict in the Lawrence case is welcome, in that it addresses the terrible wrong committed by the killers, and also the terrible wrong of the failure of the police to investigate properly in the days after the murder. But I do feel a sense of unease about the longer term implications of this case. The two men who have been convicted of this terrible crime have been pursued by the legal system for years, to such an extent and with such frenzy that it must be impossible for any thinking adult to be unaware of the case and to have no opinion on the subject. We have even seen the law changed with the express purpose of putting these killers on trial for a second time. The impetus to pursue this case has come from public opinion, which I find unsettling because we seem to have reached a point where a person is convicted because that is what the public want.

It reminds me of the Acts of Attainder passed by Parliament, in the 16th and 17th centuries, in which the traitor was condemned and executed simply because Parliament had so decreed it. Evidence was unnecessary; all that was needed was a simple majority and the king’s signature. Acts of Attainder and ex post facto laws are prohibited by the United States Constitution, but we seem to have allowed such abuses of law to operate in this case.

Howsoever I feel pleased for the Lawrence family that some resolution has been achieved for them by this verdict, I feel uneasy for the future. Will we see further cases where the press and public opinion conduct a hue and cry to secure the conviction of persons who are generally reviled? Will unpleasant offenders like Gary Glitter be pursued by the use of retrials until the public get the result they want?

It may be objected that the Lawrence case was different because the retrial was made possible by the discovery of new evidence. This is a disingenuous argument. With modern forensic science, the discovery of new evidence will always be possible. The real problem in this case was not, in fact, the lack of evidence but the failure of the police to search properly for the necessary evidence in the immediate aftermath of the killing. Although the killers’ names were passed to the police within hours, they failed to act decisively and inadvertently allowed the criminals to destroy the clues.

The positive outcome of this case must be that the police should investigate all serious cases with objective thoroughness from the outset. We must avoid the awful possibility of public opinion operating like a sanitised lynch mob to get the result it desires.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stephen Lawrence – Britain, A Liberal Utopia?


Dr Mark Featherstone and Dr Siobhan Holohan

On 3rd January 2012 Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence over 18 years after he died of stab wounds in April 1993. The immediate media reaction to the guilty verdict was that two of Stephen’s killers had finally been held to account for his murder and that some kind of justice had been done. However, there was a sub-text to this reaction - Britain has changed in the wake of the Macpherson Report that essentially exposed institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police and argued in favour of victim-centred justice. In other words, the media reaction has been that lessons have been learned. Britain is no longer a racist country, but rather a tolerant, multicultural, nation sensitive to difference.

A decade ago we wrote about the case using discourse analysis to explore media representations around Lawrence. On the basis of this work we argued that the media sought to save the image of Britain as a tolerant multicultural society by scapegoating various groups as ‘racist’ – the killers, as representatives of the racist underbelly of British society, and then the police as a symbol of intolerant British institutions. The central point, here, was that society itself was innocent – the problem resided in deviant others. In our works on the case – ‘The Search for Justice in the Media Age’ (Holohan, Ashgate, 2002) and ‘Multiculturalism, Institutional Law, and Imaginary Justice’ (Featherstone and Holohan, Law and Critique, Vol. 14:1, 2003) – we disagreed with this popular media construction and argued that what we really needed to learn from the Lawrence case was much more profound – we argued that until we learn to take responsibility for the racism running through our society, and stop believing that we can contain it in particular individuals or particular institutions, we will never be able to deal with racial inequality. In other words, we argued that we live in an exclusionary, intolerant, society and that the Lawrence case needed to be taken as a wake up call, rather than a singular event revealing particular criminal elements within society. On the contrary, we wanted to say that those criminal elements were not somehow other, but rather symbolic, hyperbolic, representations of the social whole.

We would make a similar point today by examining the contemporary Lawrence verdict in relation to recent events, such as David Cameron’s condemnation of state multiculturalism speech and the summer riots, which we would argue show that Britain is far from inclusive. Speaking about the failure of multiculturalism early last year (February, 2011), Cameron argued that Britain needed a unified ethnic identity, and that passive tolerance was an invitation to extremism. Advocating a brand of macho ‘muscular liberalism’, Cameron explained that we need less tolerance, and more sense of morality, and the courage to make tough decisions about right and wrong. There was really nothing revolutionary about this speech. In many ways, Britain was ready for this message and had been since 7 / 7, which as we have shown in another article (Featherstone, Holohan, Poole, ‘Discourses of the War on Terror: Constructions of the Islamic Other in the Wake of 7/7’, International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, Volume 6, Number 2, 2010) produced widespread racist sentiment in Britain and normalised Islamophobic exclusionary politics. In other words, we would not see Cameron’s advocacy of ‘muscular liberalism’ as objective or neutral, but instead based in notions of right and justice which are essentially white, and also very male, in their construction.

Following 7 / 7 we argued that Britain was moving away from multiculturalism and that this position was becoming more acceptable. Indeed, our view was that British society was becoming increasingly intolerant and exclusive in ethnic, gendered, and class terms. Although, this is not the place to explore each of these social exclusions in depth, in our paper on 7 / 7 we connected the increasing exclusivity of British society to the expansion of neo-liberal economics and the hegemony of an ultra-competitive model of society. We would argue that this exclusivity has been further revealed by the economic crash and the increasing stress this has placed on society. Under pressure, British society has become a more hostile place, and social inequalities based upon divisions such as race, gender, and class have simply widened and become economic and political battlegrounds. Certainly two of these social divisions – race and class – were central to the summer riots, which began on the basis of ethnic tensions between the black community and police in Tottenham, and quickly expanded to take in class divisions between ‘normal’ Britain and the excluded underclass in other cities, such as Manchester.

But what does any of this have to do with Lawrence? Our point is very simple. Against the background of Cameron’s critique of multiculturalism and advocacy of muscular liberalism and the summer riots, we think it would be a mistake to imagine that the contemporary Lawrence verdict says anything about the transformation of Britain into an inclusive utopian society. We cannot use Lawrence as a political football. On the contrary, we would follow Domenico Losurdo, and argue that liberalism has always been a colonial discourse, possessed by an exclusive dark side, which means that the price of tolerance is the construction of some other who is by definition tolerated on the very margins of society. Is this not exactly what the Islamic and underclass other represent today? These people are in society, but only insofar as they inhabit the very margins of the social system. They are in, but out of society. They are marginal others that normal society 'tolerates'. What does this mean and how should we conclude our discussion? Again, we have a simple conclusion. Despite the Lawrence verdict, which has finally seen some kind of justice done in relation to Stephen’s murder in 1993, we would argue that this is no time for complacency and we need to remain critical. As Islamophobia and the summer riots show, Britain is no liberal utopia.

Friday, 6 January 2012

PhD bursaries and studentships in Sociology, Criminology and other Social Sciences

Keele University is offering a wide range of funded postgraduate scholarships for PhD research in Criminology, Sociology and other fields.  Closing date for applications is February 17th 2012.  A number of graduate teaching assistant posts are available, along with fully funded studentships, bursaries and fee-waivers.

Please note that the Sociology research group is under the heading of 'Social Policy', however supervisors are available in a wide range of sociological fields (including cultural sociology and social theory) and students are
advised to explore research profiles on our website and contact potential supervisors before submitting an application.

Criminology research group is also - as you might expect - within the Centre for Social Policy.

Further details of the studentships and the application process can be found here:

You would be well advised to make contact with potential supervisors in areas of interest before submitting any application.

Sociology research profiles can be found via individual pages here:

Criminology research profiles can be found via individual pages here: