At a time when half the Police Forces in Britain seem to be gainfully employed on investigations of the real or alleged misdeeds of the other half, the image of British justice, formerly as reliable and predictable as Mrs Thatcher's attitude to Europe, faces us like something grinning out of a crazy mirror at a fairground: paunchy, knock-kneed, grotesque. But, it will be argued, the driver of the tumbril has suddenly thrown the thing into reverse. The Guildford Four are free, and officially declared innocent. The Maguires are not far behind them. As far as the Birmingham Six are concerned, it appears to be only a matter of time. And Kevin Taylor got off, didn't he? Retrospective justice is at least better than no justice at all, and the Court of Appeal will always get it right in the end. This is not a view which is taken by Lord Denning. British justice, he said after the quashing of the Guildford Four verdict, was 'in ruins'. It is important, however, to pinpoint the cause of his concern. It is not the action of the Police leading to the wrongful convictions of the Guildford Four which appears to trouble him, but the Court of Appeal's decision to set them free. He had stated earlier that the Guildford Four ought to remain in gaol, guilty or innocent, because of the horrendous consequences for public confidence in British law of admitting that an injustice had been done to them.
LRB 16 August 1990 | PDF Download