There is an ugly mood prevailing in New Zealand at the moment. Recently there have been a number of high profile legal cases that have not resulted in a conviction. The public, and even the Prime Minister, have been baying for blood.
One case, where baby twins died, was a horrific situation and was another example of people having babies who could not and did not care for them, and should never have had them. The case involved a dysfunctional family who refused to talk to the police at the outset, then ended up with the mother and father accusing each other in a TV drama-style court case. The evidence was only ever circumstantial and there was opposing medical testimony. There was, to me, undoubtedly reasonable doubt.
But the media has been reporting or perhaps more accurately whipping up public outcry, the politicians (it being election year) have jumped on the bandwagon, and there are the inevitable calls for public enquiries, for changes in legislation to allow for retrials, and for the government to be "tough on crime." Lobbyists scream for longer sentences, under the misnomer of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, despite the fact that we have one of the highest prison rates in the OECD and minimum sentences have been lengthened significantly over the last 5 years. Everyone seems to prefer trial by media rather than trial in law.
“Justice!” they screech, forgetting that reasonable doubt and the right to a fair trial are the basics of our justice system, and if we lose those we lose justice. I knew we had reached a new low when our Prime Minister Helen Clark weighed in, as she is usually a very astute judge of when to speak and what to say.
The public is angry. I am angry with them. But for the opposite reason.
If I ever find myself in court, I want a fair trial, and I want to be judged against the premise of being innocent until proven guilty, and a verdict based on the principle of reasonable doubt.
Mind you, having said that, I shiver at the idea of a trial by a jury of my peers. Whilst I've never been a juror, my husband has reported that half his jury comprised retired people (because they have the time to be jurors) and several of them couldn't even hear the evidence, yet were prepared to come to a verdict. Few of the jurors had the ability to sift through evidence or use logic to determine guilt or innocence. So if I have to be judged by my peers, I want to be the one deciding if they truly are my peers. Women my age and my education level would be a good start - with decent hearing too - but I know that’s not completely foolproof because a good friend of mine, who shares my age, background, education and even a similar career, would want to string me up or get out Old Sparky. So I would want my ethics and social values to play a part in choosing the jury too.
Face it, I’d be screwed. But at least there’d be reasonable doubt ... wouldn’t there?