Despite the decision of Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, not to pursue legal action against the Labour peer, Lord Janner, doubts have been raised about the extent of his illness on his ability to engage in the legal process.
In civil legal claims being started by Janner’s alleged victims, Janner could be examined by expert witnesses according to one of the alleged victim’s lawyers.
Head of the abuse team at solicitors Slater & Gordon, Richard Scorer, told the Guardian that the move was under serious consideration.
“I have certainly dealt with civil claims before where the alleged abuser has claimed to have dementia and we have been able to have them medically examined in relation to that,” Scorer said.
“It is something we could consider doing. It would depend on the detailed evidence that is available about his medical condition but, potentially, there is provision in the civil law for us to do that. It’s an unusual situation. It doesn’t normally arise in civil cases but it is something we can look at.”
Under the victim’s code, alleged victims would be able to able to exercise their right to have Janner examined by third-parties.
Although Janner transferred ownership of his property to family members Scorer said this would not deter claimants. “If the transfer has happened in the last five years and was done with the intent to deprive potential creditors, there may be ways around this. The question I would ask is: if he actually has dementia, on what basis does he have the capacity to transfer ownership of assets? That is something we will need to explore. On the face of it, the two don’t sit easily together. There appears to be a contradiction between saying on the one hand that ‘he has dementia’ and on the other that he has been able to effect a transfer of assets. If there’s evidence that the transaction has been done to avoid potential creditors that is something we could challenge.”
The Independent reports that the charity NSPCC is pressuring Alison Saunders to reopen the investigation.
The NSPCC’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, says in a letter to Saunders that “given the exceptional historical mistakes in this matter, I would like to understand why you did not deem it in the public interest to have a trial of facts”.
A defendant who is found ‘unfit’ is not tried in the usual way. The jury considers, at a ‘trial of the facts’, whether the defendant did the act they have been charged with. If they did, the Court can put measures in place to provide supervision and support for the defendant and protect the public.
Wanless said the unintended consequence of leaving the cases untried could discourage other victims of child abuse from coming forward, “particularly if the accused sits in a position of influence or power”.
As we stated in another article concerning the current situation with Janner, if Janner does not have the mental capacity to engage in the legal process, or understand why he is being punished, it is ridiculous (and probably highly illegal) to make him stand trial as part of the normal legal process, and would amount to nothing other than outright revenge.
However, it seems there are other options – such as the ‘trial of facts’ – which may be appropriate and as well as giving the victims some form of justice, will also enable the police to carry on with investigations into the extent of the high-profile child abuse ring – including searching Janner’s properties and so on.
Of course, if he is found to have sufficient capacity then he should stand trial as part of the normal process.
Whatever happens, it is imperative that Janner’s alleged crimes are tried and the alleged victims receive some form of justice, and that the police can carry on to expose other criminals.