The continual jibes in the Gazette about poor Mr Grayling’s lack of legal qualifications and (ergo) his supposed unconcern for the rule of law are growing wearisome.
The latest occasion for them seems to be the criminal legal aid reforms. Correspondents have propounded the extraordinary maxim that ‘no one is a criminal until a court says so’. If that is the case, large areas of public and private consciousness may as well shut up shop at once. This is just the kind of nonsense that gets parroted when lawyers become obsessed with their professional standing and forget that, first and foremost, they are moral agents, rational beings and citizens of a state.
Let us force ourselves to remember that presumption of innocence is a rule of evidence, nothing more, whereas the question of whether or not somebody is a ‘criminal’ is a matter of fact. Assumptions of criminality are made at every stage of the criminal justice system, else how could anyone ever be arrested or remanded in custody? A writer has identified a famous painter as Jack the Ripper, though so far as the law is concerned his only offences were on canvas. Al Capone notoriously did murder after murder yet was convicted at last merely for tax evasion. May we not boldly say that during all those ‘convictionless’ years he was nonetheless a crook? Likewise the Krays, Richardsons and their ilk. What becomes of the entertainment industry otherwise?
Let’s say someone I know is a benefits cheat. I know this because he boasts of it. Just because I do not have the heart to denounce him, am I not allowed, in my innermost thoughts, to call him a criminal? I can even do so publicly and the law will support me so long as I can prove the fact, though my friend has never been brought to trial. If this were not the case, what becomes of investigative journalism? For that matter, criminal lawyers know perfectly well that the bulk of their clients are criminals, and I have no doubt that your contributors who are most indignant with Mr Grayling habitually think of them as such.
The justice secretary has not breached his social and legal duties by declaring any individual to be a criminal but has spoken of criminals en masse. He has said nothing that, in essence, might not have been said by any of his legally qualified predecessors – or indeed by any sane and responsible person.
Martin Maloney, solicitor, London N3