Sunday, December 26, 2004

Preventing a grave danger to justice

The Herald is screaming about a case against a sex-offender which was thrown out because it took too long. They'd obviously prefer that a stay of proceedings had not been granted, but that would pose a grave danger to justice. Memory fades with time, and as a result the evidence people can provide on the stand becomes progressively more unreliable. Too long a wait, and any becomes inherantly unsafe. How long is "too long" will depend on the case, but the fact that the defendant here was intellectually disabled with a severe memory problem which made it difficult to remember last month, let alone events from three years ago, suggests a relatively short period. He would have been incapable of participating in his own defence, incapable of giving evidence on his own behalf, and incapable of questioning (or verifying) his previous confession - in other words, incapable of presenting his side of the story. The "hang 'em high" brigade may be comfortable with mounting "trials" under these circumstance, but I am not. Such would be tantamount to a trial in absentia and a mockery of justice.

That said, it is disgusting that our legal system is so inefficient that in some cases people must be allowed to go free rather than face justice. And the finger can be squarely pointed at the government - not for setting too high a standard (it is not them, but justice which dictates that people be released if their trial has dragged on too long), but for failing to provide the proper resources to allow all cases to be completed in a timely manner. Simply put, we do not have enough judges, and those we do have are not properly resourced (some cases have been delayed not due to the lack of a judge, but the lack of a courtroom to hold the trial in). This is something the government - or rather, the Minister of Justice - can remedy, and the sooner they do so, the better.