STEPHEN’S STORY – The Verdict
The jury sitting in Stephen’s case considered the evidence they had been allowed to hear for three days, but were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judge Mansell met with the defence and prosecution barristers and agreed to end the trial, due to the hung jury. Stephen would be released and could go home.
The judge then received – and accepted – a majority verdict.
Clearly, there was significant doubt among the jurors – a concern, particularly as they had not been permitted to hear the full evidence Stephen’s defence had intended to present. Some of the jurors were visibly distressed as the verdicts and sentence were given.
Court officers had been present throughout the trial, and consequently, had heard all of the evidence the jury had been excluded from. Accustomed as they were to the daily workings of the court, court officers wept at the verdicts, and offered support for Stephen, declaring their belief in his innocence.
We, the general public, believe almost universally that the criminal justice system is on our side; it will protect us from those who do harm. We believe that if someone is found guilty of a crime, it will be proven in court through the presentation of clear evidence, and the jury will have felt sure, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, that the accused is guilty. We believe this, because the alternative is too grim to contemplate.
In reality, however, that grim alternative is all too possible; that the innocent – like Stephen – can be sent to prison without any compelling evidence.
In England, sex offences can proceed on the word of one complainant only, with no presentation of any corroborative evidence. There is no requirement for medical or forensic evidence; there is no necessity for proof of injury, or for a crime scene to be examined. The standards of evidence for sexual offences have been lowered as a reaction to the low prosecution rate of genuine offenders, and the burden of proof now lies with the alleged offender; it was up to Stephen’s defence to prove that the alleged abuse DID NOT take place. This is a reversal of the presumption of innocence enshrined in Article 11 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”
If the same criteria were employed for a burglary case, the alleged crime would never be brought to trial; to do so would be ridiculous.
Imagine that you are accused of a crime that supposedly took place several years ago. No specific details have been given about where you committed the offence, nor any specific dates… there is no evidence against you other than a claim made by another person.
You have to construct a defence against these most vague of allegations. You’re not allowed to present important information that will help to confirm your innocence and secure your freedom.
Imagine you are found guilty.
You are sentenced to 18 years in prison and a permanent place on the Sex Offenders’ Register. You lose your home, your livelihood and many of your friends. You are imprisoned for one of the most despised crimes imaginable, and you know you are innocent.
You’re imagining Stephen Hamilton’s experience.