We have covered the case of Lord Janner on many occasions in the last year, ending with the finding that he was unfit to plead in December.
When he died just before Christmas, every lawyer thought that there was no question but that that would be the end of it – case closed (literally).
However, there was speculation that the case would be able to proceed (see the Legal Cheek coverage here). It is fair to say that nobody involved in the law seriously thought that this would happen.
But this did spark interest from various people suggesting that this would be the best way forward in such a high-profile case.
Sadly for those who wanted to make legal history, these hopes came to the (inevitable) end on 15th January 2016 when a Judge at the Old Bailey formally noted that the proceedings was at an end.
The traditional way of ending the case is to endorse the following on the indictment “Inspector X having given evidence that on the X date of Y month of Z year he identified, in the NAME mortuary the dead body of a man alleged to have died there on 19th December 2015, as being the man arrested by him on DATE on the charge mentioned in this indictment and as being the man subsequently charged and committed for trial to this court on this charge; it was ordered that the indictment be endorsed as aforesaid and be declared now of no legal effect and that the file be closed unless and until the court, on cause being shown, otherwise orders” and stopping the proceedings.
Nowadays, there’s no need for that formality, and the death of Lord Janner is well known.
At the Old Bailey, the prosecutor “Richard Whittam QC said on Friday that the law provided no circumstances whereby a dead defendant could face a trial, even a trial of the facts.”
Is that the end of the criminal proceedings?
Yes. It has always been the case, and this is the first time that it has been suggested that we try the dead.
When you think about it, it does make sense – where do you stop historically? Is this really the best use of very tight resources in the CJS?
There are various other issues that this would throw up. Take the case of David Smith, the former chauffeur of Jimmy Saville who took his own life on the day he was due to stand trial for historic sex offences – could he be tried posthumously for perverting the course of justice for the act of committing suicide as well as the other offences?
But what about the victims?
Alleged victims at this stage, despite all the publicity.
The purpose of the criminal courts is to assess whether an individual has broken the law and, if so, to punish them. Although obviously the victim is at the heart of the process (especially nowadays), technically a defendant is prosecuted for the harm to society as a whole, rather than an individual wrong.
Once someone has died, this purpose has finished. The complainants are free to sue in the Civil Courts and it is likely that this will feature at the Goddard Inquiry.
In any event, the BBC reported that even though the trial of issue has finished “an investigation into allegations not just against Lord Janner but against other individuals is “live and will continue“.