– Est. –

The Queen v Scott and Dyer, Part 2: A Sabbatical in England

Local England

Trial resumed with the banging of the gavel at 10:30 a.m., the traditional starting time for court in England. An American court would have ordinarily started at 9:30, or even earlier. Indeed, in my experience, I have often been in court, ready to go by as early as 8:30.

The Crown’s first witness for the day was the CCTV detective. England is awash in CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras. Although the use of CCTV dates back as early as the 1960s, the IRA bombing in Bishopsgate, London in 1993 resulted in the construction of a “Ring of Steel” around the capital, with CCTV cameras playing a major role. And, by 2011 there were an estimated 1.85 million CCTV cameras in use in the UK. These cameras are often very useful in criminal investigations in England.

The murder in this case was captured on three CCTV cameras placed at various points around the apartment complex where the crime occurred. One member of the detective team was responsible for obtaining and analyzing the surveillance videos. He testified that these cameras shot one image every two seconds, so not every move by the subjects was recorded. The entire incident lasted only 62 seconds, yet the detective had been able to reconstruct the incident into a series of still images which told a compelling story. The detective testified that he had spent literally “hundreds of hours” viewing and analyzing the images of those 62 seconds. The result was clear and convincing .

Although the use of CCTV cameras in America is not unusual, the US has not embraced stat-sponsored CCTV the way the UK has. That may be changing in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in which surveillance video was used to identify the suspects.

After the CCTV testimony, two more eye witnesses were called to round out the Crown’s case, and then the pathologist was called to testify. To aid the jury’s understanding of his testimony, the pathologist had created a series of images identifying the wound locations on the body of the victim. However, instead of using the actual photographs of the wounds, as would be routine in an American trial, he had created a booklet showing a series if images of the stab wounds on a virtual body with a human form, but not showing the gruesome reality of the wounds. The purpose, I was told, was to spare the jury the shock of witnessing the grisly nature of the knife wounds. If this practice has been adopted in US courts, I am not aware of it. Ordinarily, an American prosecutor would tend to favor reality in the images in order to demonstrate the brutality of the crime. Criminal defense lawyers often see it differently, and American judges are routinely asked to balance the risk of unfair prejudice to an accused against the prosecutor’s obligation to present the facts to the jury. The practice I saw in the English court may provide an appropriate middle ground for some delicate cases in the US.

With the last of the Crown’s evidence presented, it was time for the defendants to present their evidence, if any. And then, the case would go to the jury for deliberation and verdict, just as in an American trial.