Last month I recounted the Home Office’s repeated failures to reply to my letters, including one to Sir Roger Singleton of the Independent Safeguarding Authority which was passed on to them and was about the ISA’s procedures:
[I am concerned by] Paragraph 5.6.1 of “Guidance Notes for Barring Decision Marking Process”, which states in part:
“even where a jury has found someone not guilty of having done something, you must always remember that, at most, this means is that the court did not find that someone did something “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the criminal standard of proof).”
My concern is simply this. When a jury acquits it may do so for all sorts of reasons. One may be that it thinks someone was probably guilty, but not “beyond a reasonable doubt”. But another is that it has decided that there is no credible evidence at all for the case.
Imagine the situation where you have been framed for a criminal act, but the truth comes out in court, the jury is completely convinced that you are innocent and you are acquitted. Can you really, hand on heart, say that in such circumstances you would be quite happy for someone to say that all your acquittal means is that “at most all the court has done is decide you didn’t do it beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Wouldn’t you feel that use of “at most” greatly underplays how you have in fact been fully acquitted, without any doubts?
Sometimes people are wrongly charged and fully, without doubt, acquitted. It is a shame that your guidance is so reluctant to admit that.
Fair dos, the ISA spotted my post, is taking up the correspondence issue with the Home Office and (most importantly) sent me the following response from Sir Roger. It sounds promising about the ISA’s future attitudes towards innocence meaning innocence:
Can I firstly personally apologise for the delay in replying to your email. I am conscious that the ‘why and wherefores’ of the reasons for the delay will be of no interest to you suffice to say that as soon as I became aware of your concerns I have replied.
I think you raise a very valid point and thank you for doing so. The thinking behind our approach to court findings is to ensure where appropriate we consider ‘acquittals’ that may in fact have occurred when (for example) a vulnerable witness finds themselves unable or unwilling to give evidence in court. This is not an unusual occurrence for victims of the types of abuse that the ISA deals with and we think it right that in such cases we should at least consider the evidence available to the prosecution.
Equally, I cannot imagine circumstances where the ISA would take a different view to the court in the circumstances you describe. The court in such circumstance has been unequivocal on their finding of innocence.
In addition, I am sure you are aware that if we are ever considering barring a person then (by law) we have to share with them all the information on which we rely in order that they can make comment.
A decision to treat an acquittal differently (to that of the court) would only be taken in very limited circumstances and always only after the case had been reviewed internally and at a senior level.
I take the point entirely about the wording in our caseworker guidance. We are currently reviewing sections of the guidance and I will ensure that your comments are ‘fed into’ that process.
I am grateful for you taking the time to contact me and am pleased that our decision to publicise our guidance notes is also helping us to ‘fine tune’ them.
There’s no doubt that the big issues around the ISA’s existence and method of operation are beyond the reach of an individual letter from A.N.Other member of the public, but as regular readers will know this is by no means the first time when a missive targeting an important matter of specific detail looks to have hit the mark.