Look At It This Way - October 14, 2011

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Who judges the judges? We all do but the views of those directly wronged tend to matter most because they speak not from a position of empathy but direct experience.

Take the parents of murdered Blackpool nurse Jane Clough who at 26 was murdered by a former partner while he was out on bail after being charged with raping her.

Jane was already living in mortal fear for her life in light of threats received - and her worst fears were ultimately confirmed. She was stabbed to death.

How do you live with that? Not just as parents but the crown court judge who chose to grant bail? How you defend the indefensible?

Penny and John Clough, Jane’s parents, can’t right that wrong. They can’t turn the clock back.

But they can do their utmost to ensure that other parents and other women - and men - living in fear get a fighting chance of keeping oppressors at bay.

The pity is that Parliament effectively fudged the issue this week. Faced with the courage of this inspirational couple and a 11,165 name Gazette-backed petition in support of their Justice for Jane campaign they referred the proposed amendment back to the drawing board on the basis that any appeals should be heard by higher court.

It’s one of those technicalities that can unravel an otherwise seamless piece of common sense - and basically it fell apart at that point that a crown court judge might sit in judgement on someone of equal seniority. Judged by peers? Better than being judged by the rest of us.

I can’t see why the appeal process isn’t as simple as it is for those convicted who can appeal against the sentence passed to the Court of Appeal, criminal division, by lodging a form, and grounds for appeal, within 28 days.

As things stand the prosecution can only challenge a decision if a “gross mistake of fact” amounts to an error of law. As ever there’s one law for one and another for the truly innocent. I know it’s easy to be wise in hindsight but shouldn’t we find a process which triggers an automatic process of re-examination of a questionable or unduly benevolent judgement if it has granted freedom to rape, or maim, or, in Jane’s case, kill?

But here’s another turn up for the law books. In another county a report into the failings that allowed a rapist to reoffend after being freed from prison halfway through an eight year sentence is to be kept secret by the probation trust concerned - to protect HIS privacy.

Four months after release he donned balaclava and ran amok in a supermarket car park with a hunting knife and attempted to rape another woman. I’d suggest he can have all the privacy he wants in solitary confinement. Just who’s protecting who?