What’s going on in the Archers?

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A Legal perspective

Those who are fans of the Archers have been closely following the trial of Helen Titchener and may well have wondered how realistic some of the Court scenes and actions taken are to real life. It is accepted that this is a fictional dramatization but how close to reality is it?

This article covers some of the burning questions that might be going through the minds of listeners and the answers have been provided by members of our criminal and family teams.

Question 1 – how likely is it that a 5 year old boy would be giving evidence at a trial and how would any cross examination work?

Legally, it is possible for a five year old boy to give evidence at a trial. However, it is not very likely that this would happen. The value of the evidence a child of that age could give would be limited, taking into account their age and understanding.

He would initially have his evidence taken from him by trained police officers by way of a video recorded interview. That would be played to the Court as his ‘live’ evidence. He would then be questioned by the defence advocates on the information he has given on video. Those questions would be pre-screened by a Judge to ensure that they were fair and appropriate in language and issues.

Question 2 – would a child be interviewed just by the police and would the defence have access to also ask questions?

When a case is brought against a defendant, the police are responsible for gathering evidence. All witnesses would generally be spoken to by the police who would put together statements for the purposes of proving their case. If the police take a statement from somebody and then do not require them to give evidence on behalf of the prosecution, that witness would then be offered to the defence if it would be useful for their case.

The defence can have access to any witnesses but this access is subject to a procedure in letting the prosecution know that the defence wish to speak to a prosecution witness.

Question 3 – generally would a barrister go to the lengths that Anna has in interviewing Helen and telephoning her etc?

A defendant would usually have a solicitor instructed who would prepare their case and put together a brief which is then sent to the barrister for them to consider and prepare to present in Court.

In complex and serious cases it would not be unusual for a barrister to attend at prison for conferences in order to take instructions directly from the client and ask certain questions. The barrister would also want to get a feel of how the client would present their evidence and answer questions in order to ensure that their examination of the defendant in Court achieves the best possible evidence.

A barrister is allowed to attend prison to speak to a client directly, however, barristers are instructed by solicitors and solicitors would attend together with them.

Question 4 – if Helen’s defence can show Rob’s bad character, such as the rape allegation, how far would that go to counter or mitigate the fact that she did stab Rob, her husband?

If any defendant wants to put forward a defence or part of a defence, which relates to a criticism of someone else’s character, there are specific provisions which allow this to happen. In this case, if Helen wanted to attack the Rob’s character, then her legal team would make an application to adduce non defendant’s bad character. Bad character does not have to be previous convictions, but can be reprehensible behaviour as long as it can be evidenced.

The Courts are always minded that the evidence being presented to it must address the issues that the Jury have to decide on rather than be an exercise to attack other people and spread blame.

Question 5 – Helen’s mother, Pat made a statement to the Police at their request, would that actually have prevented Pat from seeing Helen in prison for fear of interfering with a witness?

When anyone gives a statement to the police, they should be advised that the statement could be used in Court proceedings. They are asked at the end of their statement to confirm whether or not they would be willing to attend Court. If they refuse to attend Court once they have given the statement then the Judge can issue a summons for them to attend and be questioned about their statement.

By becoming a prosecution witness you are not prevented from contacting anybody as there are no conditions on a prosecution witness. If a defendant contacts a prosecution witness, then there is the possibility of an offence of interfering with a witness or attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Often defendants have conditions on them not to contact any prosecution witnesses, however, in cases where the family members are witnesses in a case, there is often contact between them, but they are advised not to discuss the facts of the case.

Question 6 – if the answer to question 6 is yes, would the Police be under a duty to warn her of the consequences of making a statement?

When anybody makes a statement, the police should advise them that the consequences of making a statement means that they are giving evidence which may require them to attend Court.

Clearly, when they become a prosecution witness, there is a possibility that they would be required to attend Court and there should be a police duty to explain to a witness when they give a statement what the consequences of it would be.

Question 7 – given Helen’s allegation of rape, is Rob likely to suddenly face arrest by the police?

When a defendant is facing serious charges, there are often occasions when they would make a count of allegations about other people involved in an offence. The usual procedure is that the police would carry on dealing with the allegations that the defendant faces and then if after that case is dealt with they feel that there is enough evidence to progress a case against someone else, they would do that. That second alleged offence would be investigated usually by a different set of police officers than those involved in the investigation of the original offence in order to ensure no prejudice on anyone’s behalf.

Regardless of how the police deal with the matter, the allegations are likely to be passed on to social services as such allegations are relevant to child protection and would lead to a social worker investigating the circumstances of the children involved.

Question 8 – Helen has been prevented from seeing her son Henry, presumably due to the allegation of violence, in reality would a mother still be able to see her child and could the other parent block such contact?

When someone is remanded in prison, there are facilities set up for family visits. Usually the only way for someone to be prevented from seeing their child is through bail conditions or if social services have advised those caring for the child not to allow the child to go to prison. A mother, who is remanded in custody, is allowed to see her child and these visits are of course supervised as any prison visit is.

Henry is in an unusual situation in that he is not being cared for by someone who has parental responsibility for him. Rob should take Henry to see Helen if she requests it but he may refuse to do so or social services may seek to prevent it. The only way Helen could enforce it would be by way of a Court Order.

Question 9 – if Rob were to be questioned and charged, what is likely to happen to Henry in terms of who looks after him in the meantime?

If Rob was to be questioned and charged for this serious offence, there is a possibility that he would be remanded in custody. Clearly if he is remanded in custody then he cannot look after his child, which would mean that the child would be referred to social services who would place the child appropriately in a temporary support environment. Likely with foster parents until the issues with his parents are resolved.

It is likely that once Helen was charged, social services would have become involved with Henry and Jack and would have assessed whether Rob was able to look after Henry and consider Jack staying in prison with Helen.

In relation to Henry, if social services had decided before the allegations were made that Rob could care for him then the allegations would lead to them reconsidering their recommendation. If social services felt he could not care for him then they would consider another family member and if that could not be arranged or agreed would consider issuing court proceedings and may seek to place Henry in foster care.

Question 10 – would the fact that a jury member has been blogging about the trail prevent the trial from continuing and what would be the consequences for that juror?

All jury members are advised that once they are involved in a case, they should not talk to anybody about that case other than other jury members and only when they are in the designated areas for jury members within the Court. If a jury member was talking about a trial and it came to the Judge’s attention, the consequences would be that the trial would be aborted and there would be a re-trial ordered. The jury would be discharged and a new jury would be brought in.

The risk of the trial being unfair due to others influence of jury members or other members being influenced by jury members breaking the rules would mean that if the defendant was convicted, there would be a reason to appeal the conviction, which would want to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, any suggestion that jury members were acting inappropriately would result in a jury being discharged.

Within any Crown Court trial one of the most important tests is that the trial should be fair and Justice needs to be seen to be done which would not be the case if a jury member was publicly blogging about their views regarding a trial.

For further information on how Hunt & Coombs Solicitors can help you with any criminal or family issues please contact on 01733 882800.

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