A Good Deed – the government does something right

A Good Deed – the government does something right

Admittedly, it’s early days and it’s by its Legal Department (which usually manages to maintain some modicum of integrity and competence – or tries to anyway.) Small mercies. What has it done? The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, and Attorney-General, Victoria Prentis have announced an independent inquiry into the Andy Malkinson case. This will be into all the relevant authorities: the Greater Manchester Police (1 of 5 police forces in special measures), the Crown Prosecution Service and the Criminal Cases Review Commission. All three of them have pledged their full co-operation, not that they had any alternative, despite their own separate inquiries. The IOPC is looking at the police’s behaviour but, given its feeble record, little could have been expected of it. The CCRC has appointed a KC to review its behaviour; doubtless his findings will be fed into this one. The Law Commission is also reviewing this case as part of its wider review into the criminal appeals process.

It is not just what has been done but the way it has been done which is worth praising. The announcement states: “The inquiry will ensure Mr Malkinson’s views and experiences are heard throughout the process and this will be reflected in the Terms of Reference.” This is an improvement on the CCRC’s announcement a few days ago which did not even bother to inform, let alone consult, Mr Malkinson or his lawyers.

While the CCRC is being looked at, the role of its Chair, Helen Pitcher, should be reviewed. Like many of the Establishment’s Poo-Bahs she has quite the CV, specialising in Advanced Boardroom Excellence. She is also Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission (on top of various other directorships). Quite why she (despite her law degree) nor anyone appointing her to this role in February this year has not noticed that this creates a conflict of interest, certainly a perception of one, has not been explained. Let me spell it out: those appointing judges should not also be the ones determining whether those judges may have presided over a miscarriage of justice. The CCRC’s role is anyway important enough to warrant someone better than a part-timer treating the role as part of a portfolio.

From being largely ignored, Malkinson is now the centre of attention. As he should be. It is all too common for services such as these to forget the human beings at the centre of them. An injustice has been done to Mr Malkinson – deprived of two decades of normal life, to the raped woman who will now have to endure a second trial and to any victims of her attacker during the time he has been left free. We have to hope that, unlike the many other inquiries currently happening and announced, this one will not take years and will lead to some practical changes for the better. Not merely recommendations to be ignored until the next cock-up. Inquiries should be a means to identify action to be taken. Not as a substitute for it, a way of doing nothing at all.

If governments want to know what this looks like, they need only look at what patient, polite but persistent questioning and inquiry by the Business Select Committee’s Chair can achieve. Darren Jones has managed to get the Post Office’s CEO to return all the bonus given him under the false pretence that it has co-operated with the Williams Inquiry. It is more than the Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, and Minister for Postal Affairs, Kevin Hollinrake, have managed in the 7 months they’ve been in post. There is, of course, the rest of the Board to persuade to do the same. But it is a start and a credit to an MP and a Select Committee which understand what their role is.

One of the KC’s acting for some of the subpostmasters is Edward Henry KC. He acted for Andy Malkinson, as did Max Hardy and APPEAL, a charity focused on miscarriages of justice. In a week which has shown us the worst people can do, it is some consolation to find some MPs and professionals showing us the opposite.


Comments are closed.