UK attorney general defends British court-martial system

[JURIST] UK Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith [official profile] defended the UK's court-martial system Monday, stating that the decision to prosecute four British soldiers for the drowning death of a 15-year old Iraqi boy in 2003 was not politically motivated. Goldsmith conceded that the quality of evidence in the court-martial, which acquitted three of the soldiers last week and another in May [JURIST report], was inadequate at times, but maintained that the military still needed to prosecute the four soldiers based on the evidence prosecutors had. In an op-ed [text] for the Daily Telegraph, Goldsmith wrote:

It was suggested, for example, in recent reports that there was absolutely no evidence in the drowning case to support the charges on which the guardsmen were acquitted and the cases therefore should never have been brought. That is quite wrong. But it also misunderstands the process of justice.

Under our system, both civil and military, we leave it to judges and juries to decide if someone is guilty or innocent. We don't leave it, for example, to the prosecutors or to the police, still less to government ministers.

The prosecutors' job is only to bring cases if satisfied that there is credible evidence, that there is, as the standard test has it, a realistic prospect of conviction. That means that the professional judgment of the prosecutor is that a court is more likely than not to convict on that evidence.
Goldsmith further defended the recent court martial, saying that "the fact that there is an acquittal does not mean that there was never a case that ought to have been brought."

Goldsmith's comments follow allegations by two of the British guardsman acquitted last week that the accused soldiers were scapegoats for the British government [JURIST report], which was facing reports that British soldiers mistreated Iraqi civilians. Goldsmith last week called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the British court-martial system, seeking to determine whether the prosecution system is adequate. The Daily Telegraph has more.

 

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