Are we going down another American pathway? I see that Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police in Tottenham in 2011 is the subject of a new legal challenge, was described in the papers as having been arrested for, rather than convicted of, murder, attempted murder and some lesser offences.
This seems to follow the pattern of the American ‘rap sheet’, in which arrests feature alongside convictions. Here, we always had only convictions on a 609. This new direction seems a very dangerous road to be taking, particularly because of the current practice of arresting first and obtaining evidence afterwards.
If, finally, no charges are brought, it seems unfair they should be described as ‘having been arrested for…’ This is particularly so when the police make spectacularly wrong arrests, such as a respectable and innocent schoolteacher arrested for murder. To him may be added jockeys, businessmen and comedians.
What is all this about police bail which may be renewed time after time? Either there is the evidence to arrest someone or there is not. The upshot is a welter of speculative, often very hostile and certainly unwelcome publicity for the suspect.
Will the time come when old arrests are read out as objections to bail? Sometimes it may provide a fairer picture of the lifestyle of the defendant, but there is a whiff of ‘round up the usual suspects’. And if the stop-and-search figures are in any way correct, there will be a very nasty imbalance among the minority ethnic communities.
I remember Billy Rees-Davies, who had not read his brief properly, once telling a judge about the convictions the principal prosecution witness had. Counsel for the prosecution interjected, ‘He’s a man of good character’, to which a completely unperturbed Billy replied, ‘in that case he’s an extremely unfortunate man’.
Of course some criminals are well ahead of their time and have long adopted the American way of thinking. Back in the 1970s, I asked a client how many convictions he had. ‘Five’ was the answer. When I checked his 609 there were only three. ‘That’s right’, he said, ‘I was slung on the other two’.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor