Persons in the eyes of the law

One might reasonably claim that if a doctrine, enshrined in the rule of law, had been in force for the past 800 years[1] then it represents the fact that its importance in law is too high of a value to compromise upon. However, that is not to say that the law, while recognizing such pertinence of the doctrine, cannot make exceptions to such a fundamental principle if it is in the interests of justice. Just as the law is a creature of evolution, so is the nature of the perception of justice[2].

A scrutiny of the balancing of the above two propositions, poses two prominent conundrums; firstly, the principle of finality and its independent value, secondly, the prejudicial effect of allowing subsequently “new and compelling”[3] evidence upon the rights of the legally acquitted. The more insightful question is that, although, the need for justice seen to be done is of greater influence in achieving the interest of justice than the strict interpretation of rule against double jeopardy, does it necessarily follow that the same greatly improves justice?

This essay will analyze the importance of the rule against double jeopardy and will weigh it against the rights of the accused persons in the eyes of the law by analyzing two overarching concepts: the principle of finality and the prejudicial effect. It will demonstrate how the Criminal Justice Act seeks to strike a balance between the two conflicting principles of law, and if such balance has led to advancement in the “interests of justice. ”

The argument against the double jeopardy reforms that stems from the idea of res judicata argues that in the public interest, those involved in litigation should know the final decision reached by the court. [4] As a result, “the dismissal of the rule against double jeopardy encourages irrational expectations in victims and will rob the process of finality. ”[5] Roberts argues this by claiming that the lack of finality in criminal proceedings results in the deterioration of justice since the defendant would have to live in fear of possible conviction.

[6] This was the situation in Julie Hogg’s case; the acquitted defendant wrote a letter of confession on the basis that the shield of double jeopardy protected him from a re-trial no matter what. [7] The courts proved otherwise and the case was brought to justice thus provoking the question on whether it is fair for all defendants to live in fear of re-trial. Although limiting litigation is an important part of law, in certain cases the final judgments are hard to resolve and therefore prone to potential rebuttals that might result in the re-opening of cases.

Roberts’ perspective on this can be contested since only the guilty defendants would worry about new evidence coming to light and this does not undermine justice. [8] Here, the significance of reaching an accurate conclusion overshadows the principle of finality. For example, in the Stephen Lawrence case, the first final but yet incorrect verdict allowed the wrongdoers to be free; the amended law permitted the act of proving that the judgment was wrong via the use of new evidence thus improving justice.

[9] This essay is in support of the latter argument because in some cases for the tenacities of improving justice, accuracy is more imperative than finality. This argument supports the view that the new double jeopardy law rebalances and eventually improves justice for both parties bearing in mind that the defendant will only live in fear of re-opening the case if he is guilty.