I can’t help but see any trial that I cover as a story and it’s frustrating sometimes when the law gets in the way of telling it. I’m not being an air-headed artistic type here, each murder is the story of the end of a life.
The person who we refer to, with professional distance, as “the deceased” once went about their life with all the hopes and dreams and fears and foibles that are the basic building blocks to any story.
It’s easy to see yet another dead stranger as simply the “corpse of the week”, as if it’s some TV series unfolding before our eyes. Perhaps in a way it’s self preservation to dismiss them like that. When you hear post mortems and forensic results it’s better not to think of the body as a living human being.
But in the end, as a journalist, my job is to tell the story. It doesn’t matter how convoluted the prosecution case may be, I sit down at my laptop and find the strongest hook to hang the day’s instalment on.
But sometimes that’s more difficult than others. There are certain prosecution barristers who stick to the letter of the law until the story is all but lost. The one’s that insist on dotting every legal “i” and crossing every legal “t”.
Instead of proving that the evidence was gathered and the investigation conducted in full accordance with the law we will hear every aspect of the case proved from numerous different angles. Rather than taking broad strokes and proving the main strands of evidence, we get the story through feathery little strokes that stretch the narrative, and the sense, of the investigation to breaking point.
It’s not just boring it actually makes the job more difficult when you just get the same piece of evidence told in half a dozen different ways rather than new information. Of course it has to be seen that the law was above reproach during the investigation but if there are, for example, numerous CCTV pictures in evidence, do we really need to hear from every single person in the chain from the source to the garda in charge of evidence?
This chain can be several people long. There’s usually the shop keeper (or whoever) from whose premise the CCTV camera was on. Then there’s the garda who went to collect the DVD of the footage, the garda who downloaded it onto a computer, the garda who watched it, and finally the garda who’s in charge of all the evidence and so has to receive the DVD in the end.
Now this might not seem so bad but consider the trial where there are multiple CCTV cameras and we go through the same chain for each one. It’s not necessary to prove every little thing. Especially when the defence team’s acceptance of the evidence is a clear indication that everything was done correctly. But there are some prosecution barristers who work their way through the book of evidence from page one right through to the end.
Just to clarify, every criminal trial has a book of evidence, the collection of every document that was gathered to prove the prosecution’s case. Not everything in the book of evidence will be told to the jury. Not every witness whose statement appears within it’s pages will be called. This is normal. This is because a garda investigation goes down certain set lines and takes a lot of man power. But not all these people are essential parts of the story.
For me, it’s simply an inconvenience and an irritation. It’s also very, very boring. But I’m only there to do a job. Justice happens whether I’m there or not. It’s the jury who are going to decide whether the accused is guilty or not. That’s the problem. An over-reliance on protocol blurs the story they have to judge. When a barrister has no sense of the story he is telling, it makes their job more difficult and that’s not good for justice.
I’m not saying every barrister should be an actor but I can’t help thinking it may be a bit of a disservice to both the deceased and the accused when their story gets lost in the middle of legal protocol. Surely the accused should be judged, based on whether the jury believes the prosecution’s story of the events leading up to a person’s death, rather than whether the members of the gardai did their jobs right?
I’m probably just tired and cranky tonight. There’s been too many budgets and taxes today. Maybe I’m being a bit pretentious. But I do think the story is important and allowing it to be told gives both the deceased and the accused their due. Not every trial will titillate the tabloids like Sharon Collins, or Joe O’Reilly or Brian Kearney but every murder means someone died and someone else is facing a hell of a lot of jail time. They all decide to have their story told.