Miscarriages of Justice: The Case of Judith Ward
In the rhetoric of criminal justice, it is not acceptable for an innocent person to be wrongly convicted, or for a guilty person to be convicted through unfair procedures. Within the same rhetoric, justice cannot be priced [...]; justice has only been done when everything possible has been done.
Nobles and Schiff, 2001: 291
In 1974, at the age of twenty-five, Judith Ward was accused of bombing a British Army coach on the M62 motorway, which caused twelve deaths, and several other offences related to explosions. Ward was given a life sentence. In 1974 BBC news presented Judith Ward as a dangerous criminal, responsible for several deaths. It took eighteen years for that picture to be transformed in the media and among members of British society. Judith Ward received a life term for each of those who have been killed when the coach exploded.
‘Ward [...] remained impassive as Mr Justice Waller passed sentence’ (BBC, 1974). During the trial the court was informed that Ms Ward had joined the army, from which she later deserted. As a prosecution barrister alleged, her detailed knowledge of bases helped facilitate the coach bombing. It was added that she also gave information to the IRA which led to two attacks on army targets in which six people died. Ward initially confessed her crimes to the police, but later retracted her confessions. The appeal against Ms Ward’s conviction was never made. Part of the scientific evidence for this case was given by Dr Frank Skuse, who also gave evidence against notorious case of Birmingham Six. The Home Office began reviewing other cases Dr Skuse had participated in, after his evidence in the latter case was declared unreliable (Rozenberg, 1992). The Home Secretary Kenneth Baker referred the case of Judith Ward to the Court of Appeal in 1991. It was clarified to the Court of Appeal that the original trial has not been informed of Ward's history of mental illness before her arrest and her possible unfitness to enter a plea; also that Ms Ward had changed her ‘confessions’ several times, and police and the prosecution had to select parts of her statements to construct a plausible version (INNOCENT, 2010). In 1991 appeal it has been argued that Ms Ward’s admissions and confessions were wholly unreliable and thus could not be relied upon as being true (R v Ward, 1993). In 1992 Ms Ward was freed on unconditional bail, and eventually all convictions were quashed. She has spent eighteen years in prison (Rozenberg, 1992).
Convictions were quashed on several grounds. Overestimation of unreliable evidence and inefficient conduct of scientists played a significant part in conviction of Ms Ward. ‘One of the main pieces of forensic evidence against Judith Ward was the alleged presence of traces of nitroglycerine on her hands, in her caravan and in her bag. Thin layer chromatography and the Griess test were used to establish the presence of nitroglycerine. However, later evidence showed that positive results using these methods could be obtained with materials innocently picked up from shoe polish and that several of the forensic scientists involved had either withheld evidence or exaggerated its importance’ (INNOCENT, 2010). Firstly, the Forensic Science Service had failed to disclose the results of tests that were helpful to the defendant. Other failures of disclosure occurred in practices of the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and prosecuting counsel. Secondly, defendant’s confessions were proclaimed as unreliable because of her mental condition – a form of personality disorder (Ashworth, 1998). In 1974 prosecution failed to disclose to the defence the fact that Ward was a compulsive confessor with a record of confessing to crimes she had not committed. In 1992 it has been acknowledged that ‘medical evidence available at the time of the trial had not been disclosed, and there was fresh medical evidence. Since the prosecution’s case rested chiefly on statements by the defendant, the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory’ (Ashworth, 1998: 13).
In this particular Irish-related case there was no factual justification for the treatment or punishment. Nonetheless, as Walker pointed out, ‘terrorist action creates, and is designed to create, extraordinary tension, fear, and panic’ (2002: 510). It is possible that actions of all the legal bodies involved in Ward’s case were also determined and influenced by the political and social atmosphere of the time and, instead of trying to obtain impartial decisions, agents of legal institutions have done everything to favour prosecution. The official reaction therefore consciously departed from the traditional rules and values of the due-process model.
- Quote paper
- Lina Kudriavcevaite (Author), 2010, Miscarriages of Justice. The Case of Judith Ward, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/388064