By Brit, ResistRadio.com
Following the convictions last week of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, the menís post-sentencing pleas of innocence have brought to light a disturbing feature of the British justice system.
Norris and Dobson were found guilty based on the tiniest of new forensic evidence, despite serious concerns over the possibility of that evidence having been cross contaminated during its retrieval and storage. Both men have consistently denied their involvement in the murder, and continued to protest their innocence as they were taken down after being handed sentences of 14 and 15 years. Their claims of innocence have led senior figures in the probation service to warn that unless they admit their guilt, Dobson and Norris are likely to serve many more years in prison beyond their minimum sentences. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation officers' union, is reported in The Guardian as stating:
"My experience is that a continued claim of innocence is always a barrier. A lifer, in order to get out of jail on licence, needs to demonstrate that he or she has shown remorse, completed rehabilitation programmes and is therefore low-risk. By definition, if the prisoner says they have not committed the crime, they are not able to tick the relevant boxes for release."
Even if one believes Norris and Lawrence to be guilty, such a policy has worrying implications. It assumes that the British justice system is infallible and that every individual found guilty of a serious crime, definitely carried out that crime. This is patently unrealistic. It is incredibly unlikely that any justice system will ever be 100% accurate Ė indeed, the possibility of the occurrence of miscarriages of justice is one of the prime reasons why the death penalty was abolished in Britain. Besides the possibility of juries honestly reaching wrong vedicts, one only needs to consider the long list of cases in which police corruption provably led to a false guilty verdict Ė The Guildford Four, The Birmingham Six, Winston Silcott and the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, and more recently The Cardiff Three, to name only a handful of such cases.
The genuinely innocent thus face the prospect of having to confess to a serious crime they did not commit, in order to secure a release from prison in accordance with their original sentence. The policy is arguably not even particularly effective when applied to the genuinely guilty. A genuinely guilty individual serving time for a crime, who has previously falsely claimed innocence, may cynically change their story in order to secure release in line with the original sentence. Such an admission of guilt might not therefore reflect genuine remorse for the crime, meaning that when released they might not have not been fully rehabilitated and could be freed whilst remaining dangerous.
Whilst the convictions of Dobson and Norris have satisfied the establishment and publicís demands for justice, their cases have also highlighted disturbing aspects of the British justice system. It has been shown that when determined, the state can and will secure a conviction against a suspect. As detailed in a previous article, Dobsonís conviction was only successful after the dropping of the centuries-long legal principle of double jeopardy, an 18 year trial by media, and belated and much disputed microscopic forensic evidence. Having secured a conviction the state is then able to pressure individuals into admitting guilt, thus justifying the original conviction, regardless of its soundness and regardless of whether the convicted is telling the truth when they continue to claim innocence.