15 DECEMBER 1961, Page 10


Among the working classes, the mental identi- fication of the police and courts is total. The police are called 'the Law,' and it is assumed they are much more than its instruments. The magistrates' courts, till recently frankly called 'police courts' (the words intact on many a facade), are still so described in popular speech and are often in the same building as a police station. And, curiously, this association of the police force and the law begins, in our country, at the initial point of legislation. In other lands, legislatures have their own parliamentary ser- vants; in parts of the Palace of Westminster, we use coppers.

Let us begin with the arrest. In police practice the vital period is between the moment of arrest and the first appearance of the prisoner in court. It is during these hours, when they have the suspect to themselves, that their role subtly alters from agent of the law to that of embryo judge. Without using physical force they can cajole, insinuate, bluff, threaten, exhaust and, perhaps most effectively of all, suddenly turn friendly. Even for a resolute or educated man, to find himself alone for hours with several coppers can be unnerving.

The police must do these things: must operate to their best advantage within the con- vention as they find it. A suspect will always deny the crime, and they have to persuade him to change his mind. But suppose the prisoner is not rightly suspected? Or suppose he is, but doesn't want to talk till he gets to court or sees a lawyer—as is his legal right? The polite belief (see TV plays and other nonsense) is that the prisoner is questioned fairly if severely, cautioned before the charge, and that any statement is entirely voluntary. If readers still believe this, I wish they'd throw a brick through a plate- glass window and find out what does happen.

Reflections at this point. A man 'brought in for questioning,' often for hours before being actually charged, or a man arrested on sus- , picion and then charged, should have, even if guilty, at least one impartial witness at the station before he opens his mouth or makes a statement. It is really asking too much of the saintliness of coppers to suppose that during these critical interviews the suspect is never un- duly persuaded what to say; and since he is interrogated alone, what chance will his one word have in court of what may have happened at the station if several officers come forward to contradict him? What must be grasped is that, as things are now, the trial begins at the moment of arrest. It follows that the longer the prisoner is detained before he appears in court, the less authentic will be the public trial. In-countries where months elapse before his public appear- ance, this rigmarole has no meaning save as a political demonstration.

Arrived in court, the prisoner, if working class, as most criminal defendants are, will find him- self in a doubly hostile atmosphere. The ad- ministration of the law remains, in England, an exclusively middle-class preserve. The judges and barristers are gentlemen, or almost so, and even the jurymen must be ratepayers, so that the defendant is surrounded by persons whose language and social ethic are not his own. (How is it that, in a country still mostly working class, we have proletarian legislators but scarcely even a magistrate?) Or if the trial be at a magis- trate's court, the prisoner's belief that this is really a 'police court' will soon be confirmed. The prosecutor, guardians and ushers will all be coppers (including a sort of toastmaster with a roll-call who behaves like a sheep-drover), and the walls will be flanked by officers, male and female, waiting to appear in other cases, and by uniformed cadets clueing themselves up on how things go.

If any middle-class reader believes that justice will rise above such class considerations, I would ask him to imagine himself standing trial in a court where judge, lawyers and jury were ex- clusively proletarian. Or if he supposes ignorant men and women are not intimidated by the atmosphere of a police court (as I think we must still call it), I would ask how brave a face be put on matters the last time he was pinched for speeding, and how valiant he thinks he would have been if uneducated and undefended by a lawyer.

That it is difficult to be legally defended in a criminal trial is another instance of the class bias surviving in British justice. It can be stated as an axiom that in cases of innocence or doubt—and even in those of guilt—the chance of acquittal is vastly improved by the services of both solicitor and barrister. Now, 'legal aid' will be granted in certain circumstances; but it is not mandatory, and most defendants are too ignorant or cowed to ask for it. And even when it is given, you're not likely to get the best legal brains at government prices.

To this it may be replied, 'If he's innocent, what has he to fear?' To which the just retort must be that if 'innocent until proved guilty' has meaning other than as an admirable ab- straction, and bearing in mind that positive proof of innocence is the most effective way of preventing the prosecution 'proving you guilty,' the defendant should have the material means to state his case as forcefully as the prosecution. In Regina v. anyone, it is Regina who brings the case to court, and usually for the best of reasons. But Regina has a massive legal apparatus at her disposal, paid for by taxation. So unless the defendant is rich or a born barrack-room lawyer (or, if in a murder trial, he is subsidised by some scandal sheet), the superior advocacy of the Regina team is all the more likely to send him down.

If justice is not to be equated with the de- fendant's wealth, payment for defence should be as automatic as payment for prosecution. Even as things are at present, if Regina brings you to court and you're acquitted, Regina should pay your costs—just as the losing party usually must in a civil suit (The official riposte to this is that 'acquittal doesn't establish innocence-- only absence of proof of guilt.' Well, if that 15 SO, is guilt proved by conviction? And how are you proved innocent?) Prosecution in lower courts should not be by the police, but by other agencies, as in higher courts. Magistrates' courts should be staffed, like higher courts, by nee police ushers. Officers waiting to give evidence in later cases should stay outside, and if they or cadets want to study court procedure ,or defendants' faces, they should do so from the public gallery or in the remand-room.

As he sits through his trial, the prisoner rileY make these further reflections. If he's so cent till proved guilty' as all that, why should he be stuffed into a dock? We take this s° much for granted—but why, in logic, should it be? A defendant who rises from a table beside his advocate to give evidence on his own behalf at the witness-stand (as he does in the United States, where justice is notoriously inferior to our own) is likely to be heard more impartiallY than is a man who comes out of a horse-box from between two guardians. And why, in this same box, is there no desk for papers so that the defendant must scribble surreptitiously 00 his knees? Chief perplexity of all: police officers are allowed to 'refresh their memories' while ill the witness-box from notes made (or said t° be so) shortly after the arrest—an impressive proof of their veracity to candid juries. Out why is the defendant not permitted to do Like. wise, the more so as experienced officers make 'good witnesses' anyway? Why, indeed, was he prevented from making any such notes of his version of what was done and said from the moment of his arrest until his first court appearance? Contemplating the jury, the defendant Will wonder if their bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, backgrounds may prejudice them against hfis uncouth accent and manifestly inferior social status. He will ask himself if the jury's apPre:, ciation of the validity of police evidence will be as acute as their assessment of his own. For the barristers he can feel nothing but awe—and tenderness for his defender, should he be lucky enough to have one. Yet if a literate man he may reflect, from his studies in le!, biography, that an advocate can never fo' somehow, to be splendid. For has he not often read that, when two luminaries oppose each other in a criminal trial, each advocate displays such astonishing forensic skills that the fact one lost, and the other won, is scarcely of portance? Raising fearfully his eyes upon the judge, be may dare to wonder how it is a man who, during his youth and middle age, argued cases this way; and that for fees should suddenly be blessed by objectivity underneath a wig; and ponder on legal custom in those lesser lands where a bar: rister's training is deemed most unsuitable 01 impartial service on the bench. He may wade' what knowledge, direct, personal and other than by vicarious hearsay, this man who judges hi° may have of the criminal world (and Mal! worlds outside the legal), of the insides of police stations,' of the cells to which he banishes offer!: ders, and if, especially, he has ever witnessed ° the flesh the human consequences, on victim an '311 warders, of those moments in his career When he put on the black cap. And recalling the effects of power on the inner natures of others he has encountered, he may reflect on the vaster powers this man possesses—those, indeed, °f life and death—and hope that his soul can bear the weight without dire peril.