BBC NEWS Manchester 10th September.
The events prior to the trial are of some of interest. Turner was originally arrested in September
2011. By December 2011 the Crown Prosecution Service had concluded that
there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial and no charges were
brought at that time. In February 2012, the victim’s mother made a formal
complaint about the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision not to charge him and the victim gave further information to
the police in March 2012. However, it was not until February 2013 that the CPS had reviewed the case and concluded that charges should be preferred. It was in October 2012 that the revelations about the activities of the late Jimmy Savile came to public notice.
It is for the CPS to determine whether charges should be preferred. In reaching 'charging decisions' the prosecutors apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors with its evidential and public interest stages. The prosecutor must also consider other relevant material such as the Director's Guidance on Charging 2013 and any guidance relating to specific types of case.
CPS - Recent developments:
It is interesting to note two developments dating from June 2013.
A) The CPS has been consulting on the Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse: Public Consultation. See the video of the present Director of Public Prosecutions talking about the interim guidelines.
B) A further CPS consultation on the Interim Guidance on the Victims' Right to Review Scheme: Public Consultation closed on 5th September. This guidance will now be reviewed in light of the
responses received and final guidance will then be published. The scheme gives effect to the principles laid down in Killick
and in Article 10 of the European Union Directive establishing minimum
standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
Of course, it remains to be seen how frequently the Review scheme is used. The review process is part and parcel of greater recognition that victims have rights but reviews will extend the stress and anxiety of the criminal justice process from the suspect's perspective. The time from arrest to the CPS decision relating to charge can, on occasions, be lengthy - as in Turner's case.
The decision to charge Turner:
Turner's acquittal has been followed by a considerable amount of comment - (see the selection of links below). The decision to charge him was reached after applying a perfectly proper process which permitted complaints. Also, the complainant gave the Police further information in March 2012. Even though the final decision to charge was taken after the Savile revelations, there seems to be no reasonable basis to conclude that those revelations had anything to do with the decision to charge Turner.
If the CPS decision-maker concludes that the evidential and public interest tests are met then a charge should follow. When allegations of serious sexual misconduct are made, they have to be properly investigated and brought to court (subject to the charging tests already referred to). Fairness to victims demands no less.
Fair trial - involves testing the evidence:
When the matter is before the court, the defendant is entitled to a fair trial and this requires robust testing of the prosecution evidence. Cross-examination of the accuser has been the subject of adverse criticism in recent times but it is a necessary part of the fair trial process. If, as an example, the defence is that complainant is lying, then this has to be tested - a process which requires skilled counsel. See the post by Nigel Poole QC - What are Barristers for? Cross examination is subject to legal and ethical limits and the judge should ensure that the limits are applied. Special measures can also be applied to assist in the reception of evidence.
Where does Mr Turner now stand? He is not guilty of the charges. His character was revealed publicly as part of his defence. He has drunk heavily and had extra-marital affairs - referred to as 'one night stands.' These may be seen as undesirable things to do but they are not criminal. It is to be hoped that he can pick up his life to the full and not suffer from the abysmal mentality of 'there's no smoke without fire.' Let us remember that our law starts with a presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) and so, if guilt is not proved, the person remains innocent.
Should defendants in this type of case be given anonymity in the way that victims of sexual offences are offered anonymity? Discussion of this can be found on Carl Gardner's Head of Legal blog 24th May 2010 - We must see justice done (more on rape and anonymity). Those who argue for anonymity for those charged are motivated by the undoubted damage which can be done to an individual merely by being charged and, in particular circumstances, teachers are granted anonymity - see post of 29th September 2012. Nevertheless, in February 2013, Maura McGowan QC argued for anonymity for rape defendants.
Manchester Evening News 11th September - Top CPS prosecutor denies 'celebrity witch-hunt' after Michael Le Vell acquitted of child sex charges
The Guardian 11th September - Michael Le Vell: the CPS had no choice but to prosecute
Telegraph 11th September - Michael Le Vell - CPS defends prosecution of Coronation Stree actor
Independent 11th September - The Michael Le Vell verdict is in, but all the lessons are still to learn
The [Justice] Gap - Felicity Gerry - Dark Secrets and Allegations
Parliamentary Briefing Paper on Anonymity - contains extensive analysis of the anonymity question in relation to suspects / defendants in sexual cases
Chris Jefferies: Criminal suspects should not be named
BBC News UK - Michael Le Vell cleared: should rape suspects get anonymity?