What is double jeopardy?
The legal principle of double jeopardy was that a person who was found by the court to be not guilty of an offence could not be prosecuted again. This principle applied even if new evidence came to light proving that the accused did in fact commit the crime.
However, this changed in April 2005 when sections 75-83 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force. Consequently, a person can face a re-trial if
- The Director of Public Prosecutions authorises it; and
- There is new and compelling evidence, such as DNA or witness evidence; and
- The person is being accused of committing a qualifying offence. The qualifying offences are all particularly serious offences which in the main carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Why did the principle of double jeopardy change?
If a person is wrongly convicted, there is an appeal process to remedy this error. If a person is wrongly acquitted, there is no such process. This was leading to some high profile examples of justice being denied. One such example was that of William Dunlop.
Dunlop was accused of murdering Julie Hogg in 1989. He stood trial twice for the offence but both times the jury were unable to reach a verdict. Rather than seek a third trial, the prosecution offered no evidence and a formal not guilty verdict was recorded. After being cleared of the offence Mr Dunlop admitted the offence. The evidence of these admissions was enough for him to be convicted of perjury. However, he could not be re-tried for the murder itself and so could only be sentenced for the perjury (receiving a sentence of six years imprisonment). Following the change in the law, Dunlop was again prosecuted for murder, pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.
What should I do if I am being prosecuted again for the same offence?
The principle of double jeopardy has been in place for centuries. Although there have been some changes to the principle it remains a vital protection for the individual. Its purpose is to prevent people repeatedly standing trial for the same offence when the state has not achieved their desired outcome. The exceptions to this principle only apply in very limited circumstances. Therefore, if you have been charged with committing an offence having previously been found not guilty of committing that offence, it is very important that you seek specialist legal advice.
At Stephensons, our criminal defence team have a combined 200 years of experience of successfully representing people facing criminal charges. If you do require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the department on 0161 696 6188 or complete an online enquiry form.