drawing attention to the introduction of the new criminal court system in May, the Jan. 10 editorial “Crime victims get their say” rightly concludes that judges must conduct trials “in a fair and coolheaded manner” and that the “principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty” must be upheld. The editorial focuses on the participation of crime victims, or members of a victim’s family in the case of murder trials, and explains that after the prosecutor’s summation and recommendation regarding sentencing they “can question the defendant to prepare their own opinions on the degree of punishment.”
This involvement in a trial by victims or their family members precedes conviction, and there lies the rub. Their presence throughout the trial, their interest in punishment and compensation, and their physical location beside the prosecution would appear to bolster the case against the defendant. After all, why else would they be there if this particular defendant were not assumed to be guilty?
While this element of the new court system is in response to popular sentiment, as well as a means to fast-track conviction and compensation claims in one trial, it risks compromising the requirements of the court for an impartial hearing with demands from the victims for personal retribution.
It also risks, as if sensationalized media coverage were not enough, tilting the scales of justice yet further in favor of the prosecution and increasing the staggering 98 percent conviction rate in the 7 percent of criminal cases that are contested.
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