The article starts with a couple of recent examples:
Towards the end of the year, the case of the young British man Liam Allan hit the headlines. Allan had been charged and prosecuted for rape, but the case collapsed after it was revealed that police had failed to disclose evidence that seriously called into question the claims against him – that is, Facebook messages from his accuser which strongly suggested the sex was consensual. The police simply hadn’t bothered to investigate properly what Allan had said about the case against him.
Shortly afterwards, the case of Danny Kay came to light. Kay had been in jail for four years, since 2013, for rape. But Facebook messages were then revealed which backed his version of events. The Court of Appeal said the prosecution had given an ‘edited and misleading’ outline of the online conversations between Kay and his accuser. Having lost four years of his life, Kay has now been freed.
These cases, these travesties of justice, cannot simply be put down to vindictive accusers or even to one or two shoddy police officers. Rather, they are the result of a system that has stopped caring about the rights of defendants. They are symptoms of a justice system that has lost touch with its central purpose – which is to provide a vital check on the power of the state.
Law editor Luke Gittos adresses “the trend for instantly describing as a ‘victim’ everyone who claims to have suffered abuse, the rise of movements like #MeToo” and ends his article with the following appeal to our humaneness:
The point about due process is that it treats people like human beings. It recognises that no matter how important it might be to ‘speak out’ about sexual violence, the fact is that at the heart of an allegation there is both the accuser and the accused, and both deserve fair treatment. The rise of hashtag justice speaks to a society that is moving away from its humanity. It is not surprising that this goes hand in hand with society being less forgiving of those accused of certain offences. If you do not consider people to be worthy of a fair hearing, you are unlikely to consider them to be capable of redemption.
We have to do things differently. We have to stand up for people’s right not to be cast out of society based on allegations alone. When we fail to respect people’s right to due process, we do serious damage to justice, fairness and individual liberty. Following a year in which people have been thrown out of work and shamed on the basis of sometimes anonymous accusations, and given we now know that many have been sent to prison because the police failed to follow the rules, it is time we took up the fight for due process with renewed vigour. That should be a key goal of 2018.