Leaders: Time to draw a line under a marathon murder case
YESTERDAY Nat Fraser was found guilty for a second time of the murder of his wife, Arlene, in 1988, and was sentenced to a minimum of 17 years. He was found guilty in 2003 and jailed for at least 25 years. He began a long and exhaustive appeal process – the first appeal was denied, and a second upheld. Now a second trial has found him guilty.
Yet even after 24 years, 14 of them involving legal proceedings, the case may not yet be closed: Fraser can lodge a further appeal, further prolonging the anguish of Mrs Fraser’s family. Truly, unless startling new evidence is brought forward that changes our understanding of this case, a further extension would be unconscionable. The defence has had ample opportunity to put its case and to convince a fresh jury of Fraser’s innocence. This it has now failed to do.
It can be argued that the proper administration of justice is the mark of a civilised society; that with continuing developments in forensic science, no case can ever be considered closed; and that justice should be forever alert to changes both in evidence and to our understanding of the behaviour of individuals.
But justice cannot be blind to the feelings of the victim’s family, and the pain and uncertainty its members have had to bear.
Despite the passage of years in which there was every opportunity to research and present new evidence, a second jury was no more convinced of the defence than the first.
The slow deliberation of the law may itself feel entitled to some recognition that fairness has been extended to the defendant and that the appeals process has worked to provide every opportunity for further and thorough re-examination.
Barring exceptional circumstances, it cannot be to the service of justice that judgment in such a case is held forever in doubt, and that a defendant can invoke the machinery of the law for an indefinite hearing of a case which has been gone over in such intense and unremitting detail.
The words of Judge Lord Bracadale merit consideration: “You instigated, in cold blood, the pre-meditated murder of your wife and mother of your children. The murder and disposal of the body must have been carried out with ruthless efficiency… and from that day to this her bereft family continue to live with no satisfactory knowledge of what happened to her remains.” He said the “shocking and wicked” nature of the crime demanded a sentence well in excess of 20 years, but that in view of the procedural nature of the case, his sentence was cut to 17 years.
The state has done its duty in ensuring that the killer has had ample access to justice. But there is another party to whom justice is owed: the natural justice owed to the victim’s family, and to the drawing of a line under a deeply distressing case. There should be no more appeals at public expense just because the murderer has plenty of time on his hands.
Brussels states the obvious
Whatever else may characterise the work of the European Commission, it is not fresh or innovative thinking. Its latest admonition to the UK government is that it should reduce its “excessive” budget deficit, but also prioritise spending for growth due to the weakening economic outlook.
Quelle surprise. It is very similar to the advice offered by Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, some ten days ago, and by others such as the OECD. Indeed, it is now wearisomely familiar. It reflects a major problem with the commission, that its statements are of the blindingly obvious, where they are not self-contradictory. Is there really a serious lobby opposed to policies for growth due to the weakening economic outlook and yet conscious of the difficulties more borrowing to fund that growth will bring?
Three years on from the eruption of the eurozone crisis, the commission has added little to our understanding, while issuing pious statements. It is not at all clear who benefits from the ritual of a commission assessment, save the officials who draft it and those who distribute it. Perhaps a trimming of our contribution to the EU budget might help encourage an end to this needless duplication and echoing of the obvious. It is symptomatic of much of the commission’s work that its commentary should so signally fail to say anything new or provide an assessment of practical value. In this it typifies much of the needless waste that characterises Brussels. In the middle of an epochal storm, it does not add much to deduce that an umbrella may very well need to be unfurled. If it suggests that Britain cuts its costs further to save money, then one particular trim has attractions.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
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