A court in UK has recently found Australian born entertainer Rolf Harris, guilty of a string of sex offences that the court was told occurred between 1968 and 1986. Mr Harris is now in his 80’s and is liable to a prison sentence of many years.
I am always worried when I hear about cases where there is no actual corroborating evidence, simply a conflicting testimony of “he said, she said” about events that allegedly occurred some 20 or more years ago.
Maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of “C.S.I.” on TV, but I want to see DNA tests, surveillance video, still photos of injuries or other evidence and doctors examination reports.
If the person, in this case Rolf Harris, was accused of possessing a stolen TV back in the 1980’s, a far more minor crime, it would never have gotten into court, and certainly never have won in court, because of “lack of evidence”.
I am concerned that someone can be sentenced to 15 years in jail for rape or other sexual offences, on a charge where there isn’t enough evidence to send them to jail for 3 months (if they were being accused of just having possessed a stolen telly, 20 years ago).
Up until just a few years ago, almost all western nations had a “statue of limitations” which for offences other than murder, generally ran for about 7 to 10 years. This limitation had been brought in many decades (or a century or more ?) earlier in part at least, because of the recognition that it is far harder for an accused person to mount a satisfactory defence after such a long period of time.
Governments the world over, have entire departments dedicated to do nothing but store records (things like police files and other documents, receipts and diaries etc). Most average citizens have nothing more flash than a shoebox full of receipts in the hall cupboard. When moving houses things often get lost. People that own their own home live an average of 7 years at each address, people who rent are often forced to move VERY much more often.
What chance does a person have to prove “No Your Honour, I was 700 kms away on that day, at a concert, here is my ticket stub from May 13th 1963”. The statute of limitations existed for a good reason. If you want to claim that someone has done you wrong, it is my opinion that you should have only 10 years to lodge a legal complaint. Just how long does it take someone to get down to their local cop-shop ! (Or to put it in wedding-like words “If anyone knows of any lawful impediment, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace”).
It’s simply too easy for someone to come up with a story about something that supposedly happened 20 or 50 years ago, and ruin someone’s life (even if the accused person is later exonerated in court).
I remember many years back, seeing the State Premier of South Australia, strutting on TV news like a rooster, saying he was proud that they were taking cases to court that were 50 years old, on the basis of “he said, she said” and where there was no corroborating evidence.
To deliver justice to all accused persons, legal systems need to be arranged so that those accused, have a fair chance to mount a proper legal defence.
Perhaps governments should provide a free archiving safe storage service, so we can all take our cartons of receipts, diaries, calendars and ticket-stubs etc in, and have the government look after them at their expense ?
UPDATED… Rolf Harris is 84 years old (and as frail as you would expect a man of that age) and the court sentenced him to 5 years and 9 months in jail (although an appeal has already been lodged claiming that is too lenient a sentence). The current sentence might allow him to be released in 3 years under a form of probation known in the UK as “licence”.