Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Glyn Maddocks

Glyn Maddocks doesn't understand why we're all not a whole lot angrier about the Criminal Justice System. I was speaking to the defence lawyer and founder of the Centre for Criminal Appeals at the launch of Jon Robins' book about the 43 year legal fight to clear the name of Tony Stock, imprisoned for an armed robbery Glyn is concerned he didn’t commit. Glyn has spent more than 20 years advising Tony Stock in three appeals.
The book launch was held in Portcullis House, with a number of legal and political heavyweights present (The Times' esteemed legal editor  Frances Gibb, and MP Barry Sheerman to name just two) as well as Tony Stock’s family, which brought home to me that the flaws in our Justice System are not just academic points to be discussed and debated in well-written articles in the popular and specialist press, but have a real and tragic impact on people’s lives. Tony himself sadly died in 2012 but his family, friends, and the professionals who campaigned for his release throughout his life, continue to lobby hard to clear his name. 

"Stock’s case is particularly galling because the Appeal system has failed him even though someone else has confessed to the armed robbery and confirmed that Tony wasn’t even there," Glyn tells me.  "The system just doesn’t cope with Appeals very well. They are almost impossible to get through, even where the evidence is compelling – like for example when someone else actually admits they did the crime and not your client! The system is just not set up to accept that mistakes happen. And of course the individuals in charge of the system are incredibly powerful." Just look what happened in the Huhne Pryce fiasco. Remember the hoo-ha about the jury that was so inept that the judge disbanded it and called in another, prompting debate about whether IQ tests should be brought in for jurors? (For a reminder of the 10 unbelievably dim questions the jurors asked, click here.) “But what was really interesting in this saga was how as soon as the jury system itself was criticised, the establishment brought out its big guns  to impress on anyone that this was an “aberration”, the “exception that proved the rule”, that juries are still the way to go. Even a former Lord Chief Justice and an ex-DPP.  But I tell you, I’ve sat with many a client in front of juries and I’m not sure just how unusual the situation in the Huhne Pryce case is. I have to say, If I had to put you in front of a jury tomorrow, I’d worry for you, so random are the odds whether you get a good jury or an awful one. In part it’s just human nature: as soon as the jury sees a defendant brought into court by a policeman/woman, the assumption is that they must have done something wrong to get to this point. And God help any defendant who isn’t a complete saint: many juries have no qualms of convicting an individual where the evidence on the crime in question is almost non-existent, if they believe he’s "probably guilty" of some other crime.

"Don’t get me wrong: juries can be discerning, rational, logical, fair – and at its best the system of involving the common man or woman in our justice is theoretically a good one. They trouble is though, that often the system simply isn’t at its best. And once that original conviction is secured, it’s almost impossible to reverse the decision.”

But what’s the alternative? Does Glyn have the answer? “No I don’t. But I do think it’s something we should be investing in and researching as a society. There are different models throughout Europe we could explore for a start. But at the moment virtually no public funds are being directed into this area. Public funds are under pressure from all sides. But the financial costs of keeping someone in prison runs to thousands of pounds every week. So it makes no sense to argue we don't have the budget."

And that's before you even start counting the human cost of course...

To help support the work of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, click here.
We enjoyed not one, but two very special Awards events this Tuesday: not only were we hosting a party of clients and friends at Amnesty International's 23rd Media Awardsbut the talents of our very own Sophie Bowkett were being celebrated in a separate ceremony on the same evening, where she was shortlisted for a "Young Communicator" Award. (As she put it, this was her last chance considering she's just turned 30!). So we kicked the evening off all together at Compagnie des Vins, and then went separate ways for our two events, tweeting and texting updates to each other throughout the evening. 

The Amnesty Media Awards is always an inspiring event and, as I always say, a good reminder of the heroic element in journalism: many of the individuals short-listed risk life and limb, quite literally, to bring us the truth about what's really going on in the darkest and most dangerous corners of the world.  

At the PRCA awards Sophie was robbed of a win, but we all thought she was a heroine nonetheless just for making the shortlist. Legal PR is such a peculiar niche that the rest of the PR world usually just shrugs its shoulders and turns away whenever we talk excitedly about our work. But Sophie's stand-out promotional achievements on one very high profile court case, a legal first in fact in the Commercial Court, caught the PRCA's attention and made them realise the value of the very special skill-set she is able to wield. Well done Sophie!

We were kept on tenterhooks right up to the last minute, to know whether Amal Clooney would  be joining our party at the Amnesty Awards along with Doughty Street's Maurice MacSweeney who was one of our guests. We know she has a heart for Amnesty and its work, but her busy schedule and the rather over-intense media interest in everything she does, always meant it was unlikely she would come. Then Amnesty emailed to say Andrew Greste brother of one of the al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt, was flying in from Cairo for the event and was keen to meet her. Amal is representing some of the other journalists. So all of a sudden the "will-she, won't-she" was back on again. She couldn't make it in the end, (and our conversation amongst our guests was sparkling enough anyway) but how nice to be with people who are interested in her because of the amazing human rights work she does, rather than for her celebrity persona.