Alison Saunders the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after 12 months and consideration of all the files, made the decision not to prosecute Lord Greville Janner the 86-year-old Labour peer with 22 child offences. She felt that there was a case to answer but did not prosecute because of the severity of his dementia. It means that he is unfit to plead and to be punished. Alison Saunders was prepared to authorise an independent review of her decision, which she would stand by. However, the horrific nature of the allegations and because the case is in the public interest, people are baying for her resignation. That cannot be right. She is a capable DPP who should not be used as a ‘whipping boy’ or be held vicariously culpable for historical failings to prosecute by being asked to resign. Whilst we focus on that, we allow more culpable officials to fade into the background.
Alison Saunder’s decision not to prosecute Lord Janner was immediately challenged as it was felt that her decision was not in the public interest although she thought that it was. The public doesn’t feel confident in the transparency of the establishment. They feel, with good cause, that allegations against high profile individuals never get to court. The allegation of rape against the late Leon Brittan is an example.
In response to the challenges Alison Saunders made the decision to appoint an independent barrister to review her decision and she was clear that she would stand by the decision of the review. She was not duty bound to hold an independent review. Her decision was overturned. There was the possibility that if it were not overturned that people would have thought it a conspiracy. Alison Saunders has apologised. Prior to this she provided reams of information that gave the reasons for her initial decision. They included the fact that the public inquiry into historical child sex abuse is underway. This she felt would give the public the answers they needed. She acknowledged that there was sufficient evidence to charge Janner and raised questions as to why he was not charged between the 1990’s and 2006. This is frank and transparent dealing by a public official, something we often feel is lacking in public life.
In August 2015 Janner may be 1 brought before the courts to answer charges of child sex abuse. It is highly unlikely that he will be punished. The severity of his dementia as described by the four independent doctors may render him unfit to plead. This will happen if the judge is satisfied that he cannot understand the charges, enter a plea, instruct a lawyers, challenge a juror, follow the course of proceedings or give evidence in his own defence. Instead of a normal trial there will follow a “trial of facts” to decide whether he did the acts he is accused of. If he is found to have committed the acts the court can impose a hospital order (with or without restriction), a supervision order or an absolute discharge.
A trial by facts will neither punish nor convict. Yet this trial will be seen as in the public interest and significant.
It is debatable if this will restore public confidence or encourage members of the public to come forward with allegations for other cases. Saville did not go to court but that has not stopped people coming forward. Before the overturned decision the NSPCC reported that the number of recorded sexual offences against children in England and Wales had risen by a third. This detracts from the arguments that the DPP’s initial decision had a negative effect.
Alison Saunders comes from ordinary beginnings. So accusations of her being part of the establishment are misguided. She is an experienced prosecutor, with a good reputation and expertise in the area of sex crimes. She is also responsible for the DPP budget. In this era of austerity, her department was already being forced to make deep budget cuts. Since the reporting of high profile cases, many of which are complex, there is a £502 million financial gap in the service provision. Taking litigation costs into account and that a trial by facts will neither punish nor convict, it is arguable that the DPP’s decision was in the public interest. The fact that a public inquiry into historic child sex abuse is also proceeding lends weight to this.
My earlier article found here on charging Janner, suggested that we might be missing an opportunity to hold to account authority figures that did not prosecute Janner in the earlier years. Is it really possible that with so many allegations nobody in the establishment knew?
Alison Saunder’s willingness to stand by the decision of the independent review is evidence of her suitability for this role. As is her bravery to make an independent decision, which was likely to be unpopular. This makes Alison Saunders eminently fit for purpose and we have to applaud public officials with the courage of their convictions. These are the actions of an honourable woman, willing to take the difficult decisions and not necessarily the popular ones. These are important qualities for somebody responsible for justice in our country. Rather than calling for her resignation, that energy should be used to call for public officials to account for why allegations of child sex abuse had been so long ignored.
- The Crown Prosecution Service has said it will be a matter for the court to consider if Greville Janner should appear or be excused on medical grounds from attending court. ↩
- http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/article4333123.ece ↩