Which justice system is more flawed the UK or US? And how do we ensure we don’t allow human rights abuses to happen under our watch? Those were the questions posed to a sell-out audience at Dorchester’s Shire Hall last week.
Patron at Shire Hall, Clive Stafford Smith, who lives in Dorset, is an international human rights lawyer who founded Reprieve. The organisation holds governments around the world to account and is currently working on behalf of more than 100 people facing the death penalty in 17 countries, and 7 men imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay.
The organisation’s vision is a world free of execution, torture and detention without due process.
For his recent talk at Shire Hall Clive donated his time for free so that all the money raised from the event could go to funding the museum. The subject of the talk was whether the UK or US justice system was worse.
Speaking before the event, he said: “It’s about which is worse, the UK or US justice system. It’s taken me 10 years to realise that the UK system is more flawed than the US one. It’s a mess and I think we have no idea about how bad it is in this country. 89.6 per cent of the people we exonerated in the US, we did because we found evidence of innocence in the police file. In the UK you don’t get to see those files.”
Describing the UK system as ‘very flawed,’ Clive said that rather than ‘put our heads in the sand’ society needed to understand the flaws before it could start to solve them, but he added all too often we simply ‘covered up the flaws.’
Clive said a key issue was that in the US they could speak to jurors after the trial, something that does not happen in the UK. He said that one case, which he thought would be an open and shut case of acquittal, saw the jury deliberate for hours. They finally acquitted Clive’s client but when he asked the jury after why they had taken so long, the answer astounded him.
He said: “One juror had come up with the bizarre theory that when I stood on the side of my foot in the closing argument that I was lying, and my client was allegedly guilty because every time I said he was not I was standing on the side of my foot. This was nonsense, of course, but at least I learned it, and I never stood on the side of my foot again. You would never discover such mad things in the UK.”
One of the issues he said faced in the UK was the understand of the terms ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ the point by which jurors must consider a person to be guilty beyond in order to convict them. He added: “It’s society. We say it’s better for 99 guilty people to walk free rather than one innocent person to be wrongly convicted, but we don’t believe it.”
When asked why individuals and society in general has a responsibility to keep an eye out for justice abuses, Clive said: “My mother taught me that those people that are privileged have a duty to help those less privileged, in particular those that society teaches us to hate. I don’t know any one that society is taught to hate more than prisoners.”
Clive, who is a Dorset resident himself, said he wanted to work with Shire Hall because it was a place to not only educate but inspire the next generation though its work. Far from being a stuffy museum, they are bringing it to life by putting trials on in the courtroom with students taking the lead as jurors and bringing real historical cases to life.
He said: “I’m incredibly impressed with what they have done here. It’s a gorgeous courtroom. I think they have done a wonderful job. It brings everything alive. What we have to do with museums is make them living museums and that’s why it’s important to have trials here.”
To find out more about Reprieve’s work visit reprieve.org.uk.


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