by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 30th 2011)
The Rules of the Game
The family of murder victim Karen Skipper took a long time to accept that her deceased husband Phillip was innocent, but they are now convinced and share the outrage of his family, which includes the mother of his daughter as well. They all believe that, rather than observing the trial of her murderer, John Pope, they were forced to endure yet another trial of Mr Skipper – a man who could not defend himself and whose rights and reputation were given no legal protections at all.
They are further aggrieved that this time Pope’s retrial occurred without any safeguard at all of Mr Skipper’s right to be presumed innocent. Mr Pope, through his counsel, Mark Evans QC, was given carte blanche to put Mr Skipper on trial yet again, only he could use so-called evidence that had been ruled inadmissible during Mr Skipper’s trial in 1997.
The families of Karen Skipper and Phillip Skipper are united in their disbelief that the criminal justice system tolerated this. They say that relying on old evidence that had failed to convince the jury first time round and incredible new evidence that should have been laughed out of court meant that there was no burden of proof on his accusers – Mr Popeʼs defence. Where, they ask was the respect for their human rights? Where, in fact, was respect for the law?
The roles appeared to have been somewhat reversed. Prosecuting QC, Ian Murphy, was bound by the rules of evidence and Mr Popeʼs right to be presumed innocent and he observed his burden scrupulously. Mr Evans effectively was prosecuting Mr Skipper, but there were no rules governing what he could say and do.
The judge, Mr Justice (Sir Roderick) Evans, bent over backwards to accommodate Mr Pope – even giving a bad character direction on Mr Skipper despite the lack of convictions justifying it. Pope was allowed to sit back while his QC prosecuted Skipper with no constraints. Phillip Skipper could not defend himself from the character assassination and nobody represented his interests, even though it was in the interests of the prosecution of Pope to do so.
This was a shocking abuse of the law and raises the question of why the system did not provide lawyers to represent the rights of the families of Phillip Skipper and Karen too. It got far worse. Mr Evans had even suggested that if the jury thought that it could have been Mr Skipper, then they should acquit his client. That outraged miscarriage of justice survivor Michael O’Brien.
“I don’t know how they can get away with saying those words to the jury and why the judge didn’t step in because it’s already been established in a court of law that Mr Skipper was acquitted and under European law, it says once you’re acquitted, you’re entitled to the presumption of innocence, so how they’ve managed to get away with this defence”? said O’Brien.
Mr Murphy could have done so far more robustly. After all, it was in his interests to prove Mr Skipper innocent, as that would have cut the ground out from beneath the deplorable defence tactics. Sadly, this appears to be a trend in such prosecutions – nobody represents the rights of the wrongly accused.
“Well it more than beggars belief. It just makes you angry, you know, the fact that a man who can’t defend himself”, Mr O’Brien continued. “That’s like picking on a vulnerable person and this is picking on someone who can’t defend himself and it’s the same principle behind it and it shouldn’t have been allowed”.
Inadmissible evidence and also the quite frankly ludicrous evidence of Pauline Horton masqueraded as ʻproofʼ of Skipperʼs guilt. The Crown could never have prosecuted such a shoddy case, so why was a defence lawyer allowed to do so by the back door?
“Well I think we’ve got to define what significant new evidence is”, O’Brien says. “Let me put it clearly, unless there is DNA or something of that calibre, or somebody who can describe them to a tee who didn’t know the person who had done the crime, but if they’re too scared to come forward where you can actually prove there was no collusion, then you shouldn’t be allowed to produce this kind of evidence and blame other people as the defence, because that is just attacking somebody’s innocence again”.
O’Brien is outraged. “I think that goes against everything that the court says the innocent person is entitled to and which an acquitted person is entitled to – the presumption of innocence – and I think the only reason why Pope’s defence has got away with this is because they know they have legal privilege”, he says. “They know they are supposed to go on the facts. What evidence is there that Phillip Skipper has done this crime? It should never have arisen a second time, but they’ve done it. It has to be stopped”.
And there’s another issue. Why did the prosecution fail to demonstrate Mr Skipper’s innocence when the evidence to do so had been there all along?