I have to say I was surprised that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to announce its decision to charge the Conservative candidate for South Thanet with an election offence, allegedly committed in the last election, just six days before polling day. I was also surprised that Jeremy Corbyn complained that it was wrong for the Conservative Party to stand by the candidate and say that he was innocent until proven guilty. I honestly didn’t think Mr Corbyn went in for that sort of thing, but there we are, I suppose the excitement of the election is getting to him.
Of course, there will be many ardent supporters of Ukip, Labour, Lib Dems etc. who will be overjoyed that Craig Mackinlay has been charged before polling day. They will think it a wonderful development. It will, they reckon, do great damage to the Conservative Party (no smoke without fire). His protestations of innocence may well, months after the election, turn out to be true, but the important thing is that the voters of South Thanet should assume his guilt and elect someone other than a Conservative. That is all that matters. And, who knows, the whole Conservative Party, in lots of other constituencies, may suffer. The end justifies the means. What fun.
I find this disagreeable. Not because I am a Conservative, but because I am passionately in favour of justice. If the candidate who has been charged had been Ukip, or Labour, or Lib Dem, or Green or Monster Raving Loony I would have been just as concerned by the CPS’s decision.
Why did the CPS do it? There was no requirement to bring the charge before 8th June. What was the burning need to do it before polling day, right at the end of the election campaign?
We are told that the Director of Public Prosecutions herself approved the timing of the announcement. We all know, of course, that she would much rather we had a Labour government than a Tory one. But I can’t believe she set out to try to influence the election. So why did she do it?
I suppose, which would not reflect very well on her either, that it might be said she feared, even though she is a Labour supporter, that she would be accused of favouring the Conservatives, her paymasters, if she held off for a few days. But I can’t believe that either.
I suspect the truth is that the DPP, like the whole of the CPS, thinks it important to do as much damage to people it decides to prosecute as possible. Juries, she thinks, keep letting the side down by acquitting people she has decided are guilty. That may happen to Mr Mackinlay. Therefore, if it is possible to punish him before he is let off by a foolish jury, that must be done.
The Crown Prosecution Service has become far too American. Its officers now think of themselves as being like American District Attorneys, fighting for votes for themselves. Hence their standard explanation, when hopeless cases are quite properly thrown out by juries, that they still think the defendants were guilty.
I really do find this horribly depressing. In the days, long ago, when I used to prosecute in the criminal courts it was well understood by the prosecuting authorities that their duty was to place the facts before the court, not officiously to seek convictions at all costs. All that has changed. The DPP and the CPS officers now think it vital that the people it charges should be convicted however weak the evidence.
I know that most of my Labour and Lib Dem friends will disagree with me. They will say I am only cross because Mr Mackinlay is a Conservative. They are wrong. They simply don’t understand that it is possible for someone with political opinions to put justice before politics. I know it is pointless saying this, but my guess is that most of the people who suffer from the CPS’s conviction that it is always right are not Tory voters. I am on their side, and I don’t care what they vote.