Monday, February 22, 2010

Murder isn't always a crime? [Double Jeopardy]




L.R.S has organised

A Movie Night (Double Jeopardy)

Followed by Legal Discussion on

Wednesday 17th February 2010



“Double Jeopardy”, starring Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive and No Country for Old Men) and Ashley Judd (Where the Heart is and High Crimes) is a tense and slick American thriller. The plot centres around a fundamental legal doctrine within the American legal system, namely the constitutional protection against double jeopardy (being tried for the same crime twice) afforded by the fifth amendment. It is highly doubtful, however, that the drafters of the American Constitution had in mind the creative use of double jeopardy employed by the film’s protagonist to exploit the fact that she had previously been acquitted of the murder of her husband to do just that without the prospect of going to prison.


Although the film is set in America, double jeopardy exists in other legal systems influenced by the common law, including Scotland where there was a recent review of the legal doctrine carried out by the Scottish Law Commission following a reference by the Scottish Government after the World’s End murder trial. Therefore, the film was followed by a discussion of the somewhat equivocal and rather criticised Scottish Law Commission report which was published in December last year.

Discussion Followed the Movie Screening

The movie has indeed sparked so many ideas and triggered the opinion of the audience who have argued for different (some time contradicting) perspectives.

First of all, the majority thought that it is very difficult to accept that such a hypothetical case, as in the movie, could happen in reality. This is because, they argued, the difference in time of when the first crime and the last happened is a sufficient factor to open a new trial for the considered new case.

There was some discussion of the Scottish Law Commission’s Report, which recommended a partial reform of the law of Double Jeopardy following the World’s End case.

Afterwards some argued that we should reopen a trial if more evidence became available regardless of the double jeopardy principle. Whereas, some stood up for the principle and argued that regardless of the reason, a trial should not be reopened and the tried person should never live in that pain of being reminded of being accused of the crime in spite of technology advances that could provide us with new evidence e.g. DNA evidence.

I argued that the question we should ask is: what do we intend by having a criminal law applied. Is our intention to try to punish every criminal or is it the personal and general deterrence that we are after?

Loraine, from Germany, answered that in the past ten years the attitude have been quite punitive and not rehabilitative in Germany. In fact it has been quite clear that we are dealing with criminals on the bases of them and us.

A participant from the sociology school argued that this attitude is real not only in Germany but even in the United States where she was residing before. Especially when minorities and different races are concerned, she said, you see the ‘system’ dealing with the accused as the ‘other’ who should be remanded in custody regardless of what motivations there were from the criminal act if it was ever committed by the same person.

George, an International Relations student have argued that insecurity is what behind all this miss. If we feel confident we will never commit crime and we will never hurt the accused rather we will be trying to help criminals to get over it.

This was only a brief summary for the discussion and if you require any further assistance with the topic please feel free to contact us and we shall try our best to help.

Khaled Bashir