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The Queen v Scott and Dyer: A Sabbatical in England

The Queen v Scott and Dyer

“Just after 6:00 pm… Scott and Dyer attacked Fearon and his companion, Junior Inneh, stabbing both, and killing Fearon.”

Just before the proceedings started, the Detective-Sergeant in charge of the murder investigation provided me a short summary of the facts of the case: Two young men, both age 15 at the time of the crime, were charged with the stabbing death of one Shaquan Fearon on September 3, 2015. Just after 6:00 pm on that date, Scott and Dyer attacked Fearon and his companion, Junior Inneh, stabbing both, and killing Fearon. The incident took place outside a block of flats in south east London. It was captured on closed circuit television (CCTV), and was witnessed by local residents. No motive for the attack had been determined by the time of trial.

The Crown called “Jane Liverpool” as a witness. She lived near the crime scene, and because she had a fear of consequences, the court had granted her anonymity. She appeared under a pseudonym, and before she took the stand, a curtain was drawn in front of the witness box so she could be seen by the judge and the jury, but not by the defendants in the dock, nor by the public in the gallery. In America, an accused has the right to confront his accusers under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, so witnesses are rarely granted anonymity. I am not aware of any circumstance in which a witness in an American criminal proceeding has been screened so that the defendant could not view the witness’s testimony. In fact, there is a 1988 US Supreme Court case that holds that such screening violates the Confrontation Clause (Coy v Iowa, 487 US 1012).

The Barrister for the Crown led “Jane Liverpool” through her testimony. She testified that she was walking home, using her phone, when she saw four youths in a corner and saw a knife in the hand of one of the defendants. The testimony went well, and there was little cross examination. Later I learned that in an English court, the Barrister never meets with the witness prior to trial. In America, the prosecutor would have met with “Jane Liverpool” prior to trial and would have prepared her to testify. In England, however, that sort of witness preparation is viewed as very improper. The Barrister relies only on the witness statement provided by the detectives.

The next witness was an eyewitness who had been arrested since the incident, so he was appearing as a prisoner. The Detective Sergeant told me that the witness would be unpredictable and might even refuse to testify. He was brought down to the court during the lunch recess in chains, and was unshackled and placed in the witness box before the jury was brought in. As it turned out, the witness was combative, but generally cooperative. The defense tried to poke holes in his eyewitness account, but not very successfully. I did notice that on his way out of the courtroom, he turned and waived to the defendants.

This ended the proceeding for the day. I was struck by the realization that I had watched an entire day of trial without one objection being raised. I later learned that objections are not favored in English courts, and are rarely raised. This is in contrast to proceedings in an American court in which failure to object waives your right to appeal.