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Maggie (UK)

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Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America
Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America
Price: £8.99

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is about more than capital punishment, 24 July 2012
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Clive Stafford Smith is a name I know and respect, but I didn't know what to expect from this book. What I found was a compelling read, a book I didn't want to put down until it was finished.

The core of the book is the story of Kris Maharaj, a British businessman convicted in Miami of the murder of Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane in 1986. For Derrick's murder he was given life imprisonment. For the murder of Duane he was sentenced to death. Clive Stafford Smith takes us through the whole story of Kris's involvement with the Moo Youngs, and how he came to be convicted; in doing so he lifts the lid on every aspect of the American legal system and what can go wrong with it, including the Defenders, the Prosecutors, the Police, the Witnesses (including the Experts), the Jury and the various legal processes, from arrest through trial and appeal to execution. And we get an insight into how illicit drugs are trafficked, and how (in all likelihood) they led to the conviction of Maharaj for murders which (in all likelihood) he did not commit. I have to say "in all likelihood" because all of his appeals have failed, and he long ago reached the end of the legal road, despite the fact that Clive Stafford Smith has produced enough evidence to convince any reasonable person that Kris Maharaj is an innocent man. (And, in case you're wondering, not just innocent of these murders, but also innocent of any other criminal offence.)

What appals me, as a UK citizen, is the strong similarity which Clive Stafford Smith points out between the US legal system and ours in the UK. We no longer indulge in judicial killing, but there are many depressing ways in which the UK matches the US in promoting injustice, and as a result keeps people in prison who really should not be there. Just one example: the procedural bar, which is applied in the UK appeal system as strictly as in the US. If your lawyer had access (or could have had access, if he were bright enough) to information which he then failed to use at the time of your trial - for whatever reason, with or without your knowledge - you may not use that information in any subsequent appeal: so, as Clive Stafford Smith says, "if you have an inept lawyer, your chances of a fair result at trial are slim, and you have little or no chance of winning a new trial on appeal: your lawyer 'waived' the claims by failing to raise them during the original trial, so you are 'procedurally barred'." The US appeals system does not want to hear about evidence that proves you innocent, yet it is comparatively easy for a person, whether innocent or guilty, to win an appeal on the grounds of a technical impropriety in the original trial. Read Michael Naughton's book The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent? for proof that the procedural bar works equally effectively (?!) in the UK.

Clive Stafford Smith follows the history of Kris Maharaj almost up to the present. His is a case that went wrong in every conceivable way from start to finish. Before we even start on Chapter 1, we learn that he escaped the death penalty and is still in jail after 26 years, but the reader is left wondering whether death would have been the kinder option. If you are interested in discovering how the "justice" system simply doesn't work, this book will be an eye-opener.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2014 12:00 PM GMT

Judge for Yourself: How Many are Innocent?
Judge for Yourself: How Many are Innocent?
by L.A. Naylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The justice system laid bare, 8 Mar. 2010
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Judge For Yourself was published in 2004, and I'm sorry I did not discover it earlier. The book describes itself as a "lay person's guide to the British legal system's appalling number of miscarriages of justice", and in these terms it is a triumph, though it is not without its faults.

There are many excellent books explaining how prisoners who protest their innocence came to be convicted, but they are usually written from an outsider's point of view. To me, the most interesting parts of Judge For Yourself are those in which prisoners and former prisoners tell their stories in their own words.

However - interesting and revealing though they are - these first-person accounts also expose what is, in my opinion, a weakness of the book as a whole: it is not academically rigorous. I found myself asking, how and when were these statements made, in what circumstances were they tape-recorded or written, have they been edited? Likewise, dotted throughout the book there are assertions and comments which cry out for citations which are not there - for example, when and for what reason did the author meet David Britten, then Acting Head of Information at the CCRC? Britten appears in the index only once (page 130), but by far the most interesting account of the meeting with him (I assume there was only one meeting) appears on pages 222-225. I don't in any way doubt what the author says, but I frequently found myself asking for a more academic treatment of the subject - which is unfair, because this is self-confessedly "a lay person's guide".

Another reviewer has commented that it is "a pity this author cannot keep her political prejudices apart", and I endorse this. In particular, while more often than not agreeing with the points she makes, I found her intemperate language uncomfortable: a lie is a lie, and calling it a "dirty, filthy lie" does not make it more untrue.

Yes, the book has faults - but it is worth reading, because it exposes in everyday, readable terms some of the most glaring faults in our justice system. It deserves an update, to tell us what has happened to the system, and the victims of it, in the six years since publication.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent?
The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent?
by Dr Michael Naughton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £72.00

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Real Possibility, 23 Feb. 2010
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The police fabricated evidence and committed perjury at your trial? Sorry, but there is "no real possibility" that the Court of Appeal will think that your conviction is unsafe.

Anyone who has received this kind of frustrating Statement of Reasons from the Criminal Cases Review Commission will recognise the "no real possibility" conclusion, which ends with the rejection of your application.

This well-researched book tells the story of how the CCRC came to be established, and gives the reasons why it does not function in the way it was intended to function. It explains why apparently rock-solid arguments for referring a case to the Court of Appeal are more often than not flattened under the steamroller of the "no real possibility" test.

There are chapters provided by the voluntary sector, by practitioners and by academics. One chapter heading in particular sums up the effect of the CCRC in five words: "Real Possibility or Fat Chance?"

This book should be read by anyone who is contemplating an application to the Commission. It could save hours of fruitless work on preparing a case which the CCRC is bound to turn down, and could possibly help you to frame an application in ways that stand a chance of being accepted.

(Since writing the above, two people have voted that what I have written is not helpful, which has led me to wonder in what ways it falls short. The original review is as objective as I can make it, and an accurate reflection of the content of the book. If you are looking for an endorsement of the CCRC, this is not the book for you. Michael Naughton writes in the opening chapter that the the "real possibility test" as laid down in the Criminal Appeals Act can mean that the Commission may "sanction the successful appeals of guilty offenders if their convictions satisfy the requirements of the appeal courts, whilst, at the same time, if it turns up evidence that indicates an applicant's factual innocence that was available at the original trial it may not constitute grounds for a referral". In other words, evidence of innocence is not necessarily enough to get a case back to the Court of Appeal:

"...the CCRC does not seek to refer cases of applicants that it finds or believes to be factually innocent. On the contrary, it reviews alleged miscarriages of justice in a legal sense, which is not to be confused with the wrongful conviction of the innocent...: the CCRC is about the correctness or otherwise of convictions according to the legal process."

The change in the law which brought the CCRC into existence was designed to remove the criminal appeal system from political influence, but placed it instead in a legal straitjacket. The book is an analysis of how this change adversely affects those who may be factually innocent but remain in prison because they do not meet the "real possibility test".

I have tried to make the review more helpful. If you don't like the premise of the book, please don't shoot the messenger. But if you think it's an irrevocably bad review, I hope you'll leave a comment to explain why.)
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 26, 2012 5:13 PM BST

No Smoke
No Smoke
by Sandra Lean
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.95

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the justice system really works, 15 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: No Smoke (Paperback)
The jury has reached a guilty verdict, so the defendant is guilty: right?

Sandra Lean's book describes cases in which there was glaringly obvious "reasonable doubt", where the defendant was not formally identified in the vicinity of the crime scene, where there was no DNA and/or forensic evidence. The convictions she describes were founded on crucial, unsubstantiated evidence given by someone with a vested interested in convicting the defendant, and selective interpretation of the facts by pathologists and forensic scientists. In all the seven cases she covers, the convicted person was of good character and had no previous convictions or psychological conditions.

I can't say whether every one of these seven people is innocent, but it's safe to say that none of them had a fair trial. The sad thing is that the author has highlighted seven such cases, but she could easily have picked seventy.

The jury has just reached a guilty verdict, so the defendant is guilty? Not necessarily. If you think the British justice system is the best in the world, read this book. If you are satisfied that the British justice system gets it right most of the time, read this book. If you think you have done nothing wrong so you are not at risk of a miscarriage of justice, read this book.

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