Reflections on the case of John Terry

When did we start this trend towards using the power and authority of the state to deal with issues which families, friends, and voluntary associations would have adjudicated on in the past?

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John Terry: worth all the fuss?
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Julian Hunt
On 16 August 2012 00:00

Now that the media storm over the John Terry trial has died down it is interesting to reflect on the hypocrisies and absurdities highlighted within the criminal justice system by this rather depressing case.

One of the current trends, which comes round once every five or so years before being quietly shelved, is the concept – to give it the current official name - of “Stop Delaying Justice”. In other words, ramming (I really cannot find a better verb to describe the idea) all cases through the magistrates’ courts as quickly as possible.

You haven’t got a witness at court and it’s no fault of yours – no adjournment. Crucial papers and documents missing – no adjournment. All cases are to be turned round (I think the jargon is “through-put”) within as short a period of time as humanly possible.

The adage of “justice delayed is justice denied” has been given a turbocharged boost that might have assisted in factoring away delay but has done little in the search for fairness for both sides. Of course, when a premier league footballer is involved, the Stop Delaying Justice programme does not come into play with cases adjourned for many months for a trial date and given far more court time than other public order act trials might be given.

Another depressing aspect of the Terry case is the strange and disproportionate allocation of resources spent. With the police and Crown Prosecution Service under increasing budgetary pressure, why throw so much money at a single summary trial?

If just a small percentage of the resources used for the Terry case were spent on other cases currently making their way through the Courts we would not have the depressing situation of disclosure obligations commonly not complied with and correspondence routinely unanswered.

No-one is suggesting that these cases are not worthy of some sort of attention but there are many cases as important (to the victim and the public) that, for budgetary reasons, do not get the focus they deserve especially at the lower end of the spectrum.

The Terry case also demonstrates the increasing tendency for the police and other state authorities to use their blunt and, in the long run, fairly useless powers of taking unlawful acts and behaviour through the courts (for offences which won’t result in a custodial sentence) when, on a reasonable reflection, there are other sensible options open.

Minor incidents of verbal abuse on care home staff by the children resident at these homes, in general, should not result in prosecutions. Footballers swearing at each other on the pitch can be dealt with via the sophisticated disciplinary procedures developed by the Football Association.

Is there any pressing or compelling need for the state to force complainants to court many months later for extremely minor assault matters concerning their partners in the teeth of the victim’s resistance following reconciliation? Does trolling have to result in prosecutions – a draconian solution which, although understandable in some contexts, is becoming ever more popular?

When did we, as a society, start this rapidly increasing trend towards using the power and authority of the state (in other words, the police) to deal with issues which families, friends, wiser heads perhaps, and voluntary associations would have adjudicated on in the past?

When did the maddening need to have everything heard as quickly as can be seemingly trump all other concerns?

As I finish this article I stumble over words from Adam Smith which I reprint and which should be emblazoned on every state computer screensaver

"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice”. 

Julian Hunt is a barrister and has been practicing law since 2005. He was a Crown Prosecutor and Senior Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service between 2008 and 2011 but now defends. He lives in South London

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