I do so agree with Ruth Harris. Perhaps, on reflection, I have bitten my tongue too often when a judge has said: ‘Mr Fowler, your client knows whether he is guilty or not’.
Well, in these columns at least I am free to retort, in Rumpolian mode: ‘Guilty of what, exactly?’
The variations on a theme are infinite: guilty of being there? On an assault charge, guilty of self-defence? Or on common assault, ABH, wounding, or wounding with intent? Or guilty of buying something a tad informally and at a favourable price? Or is it with dishonest intent? Or with a vulnerable youngster, is it being a naive and trusting passenger in a ‘stolen’ car or with guilty foreknowledge? With the cultivation of cannabis, might the defendant have been the victim of trafficking? With a domestic wounding or worse, had the earlier history of abuse led to a genuine fear of an imminent attack?
I could go on. I am just itching to be told that no such pressure would be applied or credit withheld in such cases without adequate Crown disclosure.
The reference to ‘play(ing) the system’ which Ruth Harris identifies says it all. The reality on the ground is of a threatened rush to judgment driving all before it, with due process through disclosure the tedious and expensive optional extra.
Tony Blair spoke of the rules of the game having changed over terrorism. He might be thrilled to learn that the spectre of reversal of the burden of proof is alive and well and stalking the corridors of Petty France. It is time to take a principled stand.
Malcolm Fowler, Dennings, Tipton