Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Tebbit Wrong To Criticise The Ending of Double Jeopardy In The Wake Of Convictions In Stephen Lawrence Case

Former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Tebbit has criticised the last Labour Government's ending of the Double Jeopardy rule following the convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

Lord Tebbit is of course no stranger to controversy.

As Employment Secretary during the recession of the early 1980s, he famously told the the unemployed to 'get on their bikes' and look for work.

However, his criticism of Labour's ending of the centuries-old double jeopardy rule - which prevented someone from being tried twice for the same offence - is most definitely misplaced.

Labour's decision to change the law was made in the light of huge advances in forensic science. In the Stephen Lawrence case, new techniques - not available at the time of his murder in 1993 - allowed scientists to re-examine clothes worn by Dobson and Norris - two of those long suspected of being involved in the horrendous racist attack on the 18-year old - and find previously undetectable evidence of Stephen's DNA on them. Dobson had of course, been tried previously and acquitted.

In my view, Labour was most definitely right to change the law of double jeopardy.  In the case of Stephen Lawrence, it was very clear from the start who the suspects were and without an amendment to the law, Gary Dobson would still be a free man, having got away with one of the most notorious crimes of the twentieth century.

Thanks to the scrapping of this very old legal principle these two racist thugs are now where they belong - behind bars.

It is a crying shame that both Dobson and Norris, now in their thirties, had to be tried as the juveniles they were in April 1993 and received much shorter sentences than they would have been given had the crime been committed today. Norris must serve a minimum of 14 years and Dobson 15.

It is the fervent hope of most law-abiding, tolerant people in this country that the Attorney General will overturn these extremely lenient sentences and ensure these despicable individuals are never allowed to inflict such harm ever again.

Labour made the right decision here.  If someone is acquitted of a very serious crime, especially murder,  there is no question in my mind that if new and compelling evidence comes to light even many years later, that that person should face a second trial and be brought to justice.

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