Monday 19 March 2018

Trial followed change to an 800-year-old legal tradition

Double jeopardy

Tom Whitehead and Mark Hughes

THE prosecution against Gary Dobson was only made possible after an 800-year legal tradition was torn up 12 years after Mr Lawrence's murder.

The law of double jeopardy meant no one could be tried twice for the same crime -- but that legal principle was abolished in 2005 following a series of high-profile campaigns.

Until 2005 there was no chance of ever bringing Dobson back to court as a suspect in the murder because he was acquitted, along with Neil Acourt and Luke Knight, following a private prosecution brought by the victim's parents in 1996.

However, that situation changed with the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which abolished the double jeopardy rule for serious crimes and which came in to effect two years later.

Crucially, it was also retrospective meaning it did not matter whether an alleged offence had occurred before 2005.

Co-accused David Norris was not prosecuted under the double jeopardy rule because he had never previously stood trial for the murder.


Under the new system, a suspect can be tried again for the same offence if there is "new, compelling, reliable and substantial evidence", which had not been previously available.

As an additional safeguard, the Court of Appeal must decide if a retrial can go ahead and will then formally quash any previous acquittals.

But the latest trial was the one and only chance to prosecute Dobson because, under the regime, only one retrial is allowed. In May this year, the Court of Appeal accepted there were sufficient grounds for Dobson to be tried again.

The judges, which included Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said the new evidence "could not demonstrate that Dobson wielded the knife" but that it was open to a jury to conclude that any of those who took part in the attack "was party to the killing and guilty of murder or alternatively manslaughter".

They added: "If reliable, the new scientific evidence would place Dobson in very proximity indeed to Stephen Lawrence at the moment of and in the immediate aftermath of the attack... for which no innocent explanation can be discerned."

Irish Independent

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