2000s >> 2003 >> no-1191-november-2003

… rough justice

Capitalism is a system based on competition, and the criminal justice system, like all other institutions and activities, is dominated by this drive. Thus, trials of those accused of crimes are battles between the prosecution and defence teams. Being able to afford a good defence lawyer affords a greater chance of being acquitted than if a defendant is poor and has to rely on legal aid. Winning a case rather than obtaining justice for the accused is the goal. This has led to police forces presenting selective evidence in some cases and ignoring facts that could prove an accused person’s innocence. But, like other organisations, they have to produce results and investigating cases which do not result in a conviction does not help their “clear-up” rate when compared with other police forces. Innocent people have been imprisoned because the defendant’s defence team has not had access to all the information in the case.

The recent trial of Trupti Patel, charged with murdering her three children, has highlighted some of the ways the justice system works. It seems that if an infant dies suddenly there is a presumption that one of the parents – usually the mother – must have injured the baby in some way. The presumption of guilt leads to the parents being treated unsympathetically at a time when they are grieving and adds considerably to their distress.

An estimated 90 per cent of sudden infant deaths are from natural causes (Independent on Sunday 29 June) but, because the cases occur irregularly and infrequently, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what the causes are. It is also clear, though, that social factors are involved too. The 1996 Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy showed that there was a link between poverty and cot deaths. Low income, poor – and especially damp – housing were major risk factors. There is also a link between using second hand mattresses and cot deaths. And poor mothers are more likely to use them.

The 1996 Enquiry, and its link with poverty, was poorly publicised. Smoking is implicated in causing cot deaths and mothers are blamed for this behaviour. However, for a single mother or a mother in poor and stressful circumstances, smoking may be the only relief from a dreary existence and may help them to cope with their lives. Poverty, and its elimination would require a political change which the capitalist class is not prepared to contemplate. And to highlight the continuing effects of poverty and the way that it blights workers’ health as well as all other aspects of their lives would underline the failure of reformism to change the world for the better.

Governments hold enquiries when tragedies occur or when there is an outcry from the public over serious miscarriages of justice. Capitalists concede a few reforms, but it is the system which is at fault. Until the working class democratically decide that capitalism is a society which does not operate in the interests of the majority then they will choose socialism.

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