The papers almost proudly announce today how 7 out of 10 defendants failed to get a reduction to their sentences for offences relating to the August riots. Although The Guardian manages to sling in a few quotes from Human Rights lobbyists, the tone in the general media suggests support for the tough sentences. Tough, that is, by British standards.
Nowhere in the article does it express astonishment that as high as 30% of the cases before the appeal court resulted in the halving of sentences given out. I have no doubt that the statistic for cases unconnected with rioting is far higher.
Meanwhile, the case of Dale Farm toils on. Back in September, dozens of police officers were paid overtime all over the country to travel to Essex and await the go-ahead for the forced eviction of the Dale Farm travellers. Only for a last minute appeal to be awarded and splashed all over the headlines. A week or so later, dozens more officers travelled back, and forth, and back, and forth again, as the seemingly unending legal battle unfolded. Now we are told that the Council will actually begin the eviction, how many more police hours will be wasted when yet another final hour document is submitted for the court's consideration?
"Ooh, isn't this legal system SUCH fun?"
"To be sure."
Most police officers are well aware that injustices occur in court, usually Magistrates'. And usually the injustice is the acquittal of a guilty party. When the opposite occurs, it is obviously vital for there to be some form of appeal system, to combat the days when the trial judge or jury got up on the wrong side of the bed.
But nowadays we are seeing more and more a neverending showdown as defendants and prosecutors parade before higher and higher levels of court until they get a decision they are happy with.
The most depressing part of the whole system is that the actual victims of crime have no right to appeal any decision whatsoever. If you have sat and watched your rapist, or your relative's murderer, walk free from court, knowing without a doubt of their guilt due to evidence that was disallowed, or not believed, you cannot even tell the press you still think they're guilty without the risk of being sued for libel.
I experienced the impotence of victim-hood some years ago, when my witness care officer phoned me up in a panic one day asking why I wasn't in court to give evidence against the man who assaulted me during an arrest the year before.
My reply: "Er, because I fly back from the Canary Islands tonight, and the case is tomorrow."
"I thought so - we warned you for the wrong date. The case is now, and it's about to be thrown out."
When I got back, I wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service asking for an explanation as to how this mistake had happened when every other witness had been warned correctly, and why the case had been thrown out when I had not avoided court deliberately - especially gutting given that on two previous occasions the defendant had failed to show up because he simply "forgot" and had been given not one but two further chances. I suggested perhaps the CPS could have appealed the decision to abandon the charge of assault police.
I did receive a reply letter, four months later. I put it in the bin without reading it, but I can guarantee that the words "public interest" and "unlikely to succeed" were present.
After the best part of a decade in contact with the Criminal Justice System, I am now hardened to such experiences. But your average victim is not. They are merely distant spectators of a most unappealing sport, in which they have no idea of the winner even after the whistle has been blown.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.