In an exclusive interview with the London Evening Standard, Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders defended her decision not to charge the Labour Peer Lord Janner with historic child sex crimes.
Responding to claims that her decision was part of an establishment cover-up, Saunders said “I’m not part of the Establishment. If it was an Establishment cover-up I’ve had to pay a very heavy price for it. I am independent. I guard my independence as DPP very jealously. It’s certainly not a cover-up.”
Despite compelling evidence against Janner, the decision not to prosecute him was made because of his mental health, which four doctors have claimed makes him unable to understand the legal process, questions put to him, or follow instructions.
Saunders decision has been backed by members of the legal profession. A senior QC, David Pannick, has also backed Mrs Saunders over the issue, while another criminal barrister, Nigel Pascoe QC, took to Twitter to say that his colleague had been “wholly right” before adding: “We should stand up for the independence of the DPP”.
On the other hand, one senior MP has responded by describing her as “the worst DPP in modern times”, while other critics have called for her to quit. Victims’ representatives and police have also reacted angrily to the decision.
Saunders said she has paid a “heavy price” for her decision but insisted she had been right to avoid the “easy option” of sending the case to court for a judge to throw out.
She added that it was not the “DPP’s role to duck the difficult decisions” and went on: “If somebody wants to challenge my decision I’m not afraid. The proper way to challenge it is through the right to review or a judicial review.
“I’m confident that if they want to do that my decision will stand up. I thought long and hard before making it and I’m confident I got it right. My job is not to be populist. It’s not to make decisions on the basis of what people want. It’s about making the right decisions. Sometimes that means it won’t be popular but if I’m fulfilling my duties as DPP that’s the right thing to do.”
“This was not an easy decision,” she said. “I understand how frustrated and disappointed the complainants must be about it. I share their frustration.
“For me it would have been much better to prosecute this case. If it were not for Janner’s medical condition we would have been prosecuting this.
“But I don’t think it’s for me as DPP to take the easy way out. The easy way out would have undoubtedly been for me to duck all the criticism there is out there, to let it go before the courts.
“That’s not what the DPP is there to do. We’re there to make the right decision, not the easy or the popular one. I knew it would be controversial.”
So was Saunders decision the right thing to do?
Janner has been accused of disgusting actions against young people for his own perverted pleasure. Sexually abusing young boys at sex parties and leaving them to cope with the aftermath for the rest of their lives.
According to Saunders, if it were not for his mental condition (Alzheimer’s) he would have faced prosecution. But because he is (apparently) unable to engage in or understand the legal process she made the decision that it was not in the public interest to pursue the case.
Saunders’ decision has had a devastating impact on those who have had to recount the horrific abuse they suffered by him and others at sex parties in London and other locations The officers who have put time and effort in bringing Janner to justice are shocked that all of their hard work has come to nothing after a long and detailed investigation.
A lot of people are very unhappy that Janner will not pay for his crimes.
If it is the case that Janner can not engage in the legal process or understand that he will face severe punishment then perhaps there really is no satisfactory result to be gained from prosecuting him. It depends what justice means.
The purpose of prosecution and taking away someone’s liberty is to take a threat out of society and/or make the person pay a personal price for their crimes. But if someone doesn’t understand the reason for, and purpose of, their punishment because of mental incapacity then the punishment has no effect. What we would be left with is someone sitting in prison without realising why they are there, or understanding that it is the impact of their actions that has resulted in their liberty being taken away.
Understandably this is difficult for the victims and investigators, but a basic rule of law is that the accused has the right to defend themselves against the charges – something Janner is allegedly unable to do.
It is also understandable that victims want revenge. But again, the purpose of seeking revenge is to punish the perpetrator. If the perpetrator doesn’t understand that they are being punished then nothing is achieved.
If Janner is as affected by Alzheimer’s as the doctor’s claim then it will make little or no difference to him whether he is at home or in prison. If the aim of revenge is to make the perpetrator suffer, then the objective will not be achieved.
It is a difficult situation. On the one hand justice needs to be done, and on the other if that justice has no effect on the perpetrator and they do not understand the process.there is no point.
However, there are a couple of important points.
If Janner is not prosecuted for his crimes it makes it more difficult (and probably more expensive) for the victims to claim redress from him or his estate – which they would otherwise be entitled to do.
The decision of Saunders’ also has ramifications on the ability of the police to investigate crimes and gather evidence. Saunders’ decision has halted one investigation by Leicestershire police and caused severe disruption to Operation Midland who were running a parallel investigation in to Janner as part of their investigation into the high-profile Westminster child abuse ring.
As a result valuable evidence against others may have been lost.
There has been some doubt as to how affected by his mental health Janner is. A recent letter to the House of Lords for a leave of absence was submitted by and signed by Janner. Of course, it was probably another person who wrote the letter, but he still had the ability to sign his name, and presumably had some understanding of what he was signing – although this may not be the case of course. It may have been a member of his family who told him just to sign a paper – we don’t know.
Janner has also signed over his property to other family members. Again, we do not know if it was Janner himself who instigated this move or another person such as a member of his family who, again, may have told him to sign ‘a document’.
His capacity to understand needs to be re-evaluated in light of these doubts. All efforts must be made to ensure that the decision of Saunders is the correct one and that any chance that there may be justice for his victims are explored.
We think that if the situation is as it stands now, there is no point in prosecuting someone who doesn’t understand why they are being prosecuted. However, this should not impede the victims seeking redress and neither should it stop the police from carrying on with their investigations. In light of the apparent compelling evidence against Janner, the decision of Saunders should not be an ‘all or nothing’ decision. Some balance has to be sought.