In the 1990s, two defendants were acquitted of the gruesome and racially-charged murder of Stephen Lawrence. There was so much outrage against the acquittal, that, following a large report, the Brits abrogated the ancient common-law principle of double jeopardy. Now, any conviction can be reopened if “new and compelling” evidence is discovered.
After the Lawrence case, the Macpherson Report recommended that double jeopardy (the ancient common law that an accused once acquitted could never be tried for the same crime a second time) should be abrogated in murder cases, and that it should be possible to subject an acquitted murder suspect to a second trial if “fresh and viable” new evidence later came to light. The Law Commission later added its support to this in its report “Double Jeopardy and Prosecution Appeals” (2001). A parallel report into the criminal justice system byLord Justice Auld, a past senior presiding judge for England and Wales, had also commenced in 1999 and was published as the Auld Report 6 months after the Law Commission report. It opined that the Law Commission had been unduly cautious by limiting the scope to murder and that “the exceptions should […] extend to other grave offences punishable with life and/or long terms of imprisonment as Parliament might specify.”
These recommendations were implemented within the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and this provision came into force in April 2005. It opened murder and certain other serious crimes (including manslaughter, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, and some drug crimes) to a second prosecution, regardless of when committed, with two conditions – the retrialmust be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Court of Appeal must agree to quash the original acquittal due to new and compelling evidence.[
I’m very glad that our constitutional liberties can’t be abrogated by acts of Congress following popular outrages. Well, not so transparently at least.