Sunday, 2 December 2012

A Lottery

Ben Gunn raises an interesting case over on his blogsite, namely that of Kevan Thakrar. Leaving aside Thakrar's claim to having been wrongly convicted of several underworld murders and thus serving several life terms with a tariff of 35 years, his case is extremely significant because he was acquitted last year of attempting to murder two prison officers at HMP Frankland. 

Thakrar never denied attacking the officers concerned in a 'pre-emtive strike' with a broken sauce bottle, sufficient to inflict severe wounds, but he did claim that he acted in self defence. His explanation centred around his claim to have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a direct result of alleged racist attacks by prison officers on previous occasions. After hearing from numerous other prisoners who supported these allegations, together with expert medical opinion, the jury unanimously found Thakrar not guilty on all counts.

Not surprisingly this case has caused considerable concern within HM Prison Service, the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association. But one would hope that as a result of such an unprecedented acquittal there has been some serious soul-searching within the Prison Service as to the disturbing allegations made and obviously believed by the court. It's not enough in my view to throw hands in the air and complain about the judicial system having delivered a 'perverse' verdict. Surely it's time to bring in some outsiders to have a damned good look around? Is the current HMI system up to the job?  

I have to say it goes some way in confirming my own decision made some years ago not to work as a probation officer within the prison setting. To be honest I've always had a degree of unease about accommodations that I might have been expected to make just in terms of being able to establish and maintain good professional relationships. There are clearly huge cultural differences within the two organisations and I would say a degree of mutual distrust has always been evident. For many years NAPO campaigned for no PO's to be in prison at all and whilst I've never subscribed to this view, I can well understand management's current extreme reluctance for secondments to exceed 3 years, lest officers become subsumed by the prison culture. 

There's one other aspect of this case that I find worrying, and that is the role of 'expert' opinion. It would seem that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to commission a specialist report by a psychologist as to the defendant's state of mind at the time the alleged offences took place, but when it didn't support their case, they simply ignored it. This is routine in my experience of our adversarial legal system, but hardly conducive as a method of seeking justice in my view as it often pits experts chosen specifically to support a particular view against each other. 

Surely it would be preferable if all such specialist reports were commissioned independently by the court? In Thakrar's case, most unusually, the defence team used the psychologists opinion instead, and the CPS were put in the unenviable position of having to try and demolish expert opinion they had themselves originally commissioned.     

1 comment:

  1. The role of expert opinion is key, and it is interesting that in the family courts, the trend is increasingly towards jointly appointed experts, with the court giving a very strong steer when there are attempts to set experts against each other. It is beginning to produce real effect, and the sea change is almost tangible.