It’s been something of a talking point for us recently – who the oldest man (and they have all been men, despite the greater longevity of women) to have graced the criminal courts are.
We looked 18 months ago at the case of Jack Mount, then aged 95, who had been sent for trial for what was then 32 charges of historical sexual abuse. All then went quiet.
The reason for this became clear on 16th June 2016 when the full details were reported. The allegations on the indictment had gone up to 50, dating between 1954 and 1979 (so between 37 and 62 years ago) but, because of Mr Mount’s poor health, were split into three set for trial.
In the first trial in January Mr Mount was acquitted by the jury of all those charges (3 counts of rape and 1 indecent assault, relating to two girls) after a five week trial. Part of the reason that that trial took so long was that the Court sat for only two or three 45 minutes sessions a day. Due to Mr Mount’s hearing and sight difficulties and medical issues flowing from him suffering from Parkinsons he had the benefit of an intermediary.
At the second trial, also lasting five weeks, Mr Mount was acquitted of some of the charges (2 counts of buggery and 6 indecent assaults), with the jury being unable to agree on the rest (3 counts of indecent assault, 1 of gross indecency and 1 attempted buggery) before they were discharged.
By this point “Mr Mount’s condition had deteriorated and the court was unable to sit for more than two 30-minute sessions per day“.
Notwithstanding that, the CPS wished to not only carry on with the third trial, they wished to have a re-trial of those counts where the second jury could not agree. The Judge refused this, presumably staying the indictment, saying that it would not be proper to continue to try him given his mental and physical stated – “I am fully conscious of the complainants’ position but after two trials and having observed the defendant’s condition and its decline during the period of those trials I am quite clear that is the position we have reached“.
This appears to have been a determination that he was unfit to plead. It is not clear if there will be an attempt to have a ‘trial of issue’.
Mr Mount faced four trials relating to (then non-historical) sexual abuse in the 1970s between 1971 and 1979 (a reminder that it wasn’t the case that sexual abuse allegations were never prosecuted, which you could be mistaken for believing on the basis of some news reports). It seems that some of the complainants in the 2016 trials were the same as from the 1970s, although details here are vague.
Although there is power to quash an acquittal in certain circumstances, it is unlikely that that happened in this case. It seems that the 1971 case may have finished in the Magistrates’ Court before he had stood trial (in those days a case could not appear in the Crown Court unless the prosecution had supplied, and called, sufficient evidence to establish that there was a case for the defendant to answer).
If that is correct, then there would not be any issues of double jeopardy, and Mr Mount could have stood trial for those allegations.
However, we would assume that given most of the paperwork from that date would no longer exist, it would not have been possible for a fair trial to happen, and so it is more likely that these related to new allegations from those complainants.
Should he have been tried?
Any case going back that length of time always raises questions of fairness. In addition, putting a man in his late 90s on trial is also going to raise similar questions.
This is a relatively recent development. Time it was that the idea of prosecuting someone of that age would have been inconceivable. Also, the idea that you could have a fair trial of allegations from sixty years ago would have been laughed out of Court – too many witnesses and documents would be missing for starters.
On the other hand, there is the argument that justice should not have its limits, and the fact that someone is elderly is not sufficient to mean that they should not be prosecuted. Also, the case will come down to who is telling the truth, which is what juries do best – any particular unfairness can be considered on a case by case basis (there’s an overview of the arguments here).
One thing is for sure – with life expectancy increasing, and historical abuse enquires ongoing, this is not an issue that will go away. We already have a 101 year old awaiting trial.