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Challenges to the degree of force required in shaken baby cases

View profile for Correna Platt
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We recently represented a client who was charged with the murder of his son. This related to an incident which had occurred in 2001 and which had been prosecuted in 2002 as an allegation of causing grievous bodily harm with intent (S.18 GBH). The prosecution’s case at that time was that the client had shaken his child with such force that it was compared to dropping him from a distance of 1-1.8m onto a hard floor or an unrestrained child hitting a windscreen after being involved in a 40mph car crash. The client was subsequently convicted of that offence. Sadly, his son later died and the prosecution decided to charge the client with murder.

In bringing the case of murder, the prosecution intended to rely upon the client’s original conviction for S.18 GBH in order to prove a number of elements of the case.

The prosecution in this case stated that conviction for S.18 GBH was evidence that:

  • He was the person who assaulted the deceased
  • The assault was unlawful
  • The assault caused the deceased to suffer GBH
  • The assault was accompanied by an intention to cause GBH

The effect of s.74 (3) PACE 1984 is to reverse the burden of proof, i.e. “the defendant shall be taken to have committed that offence unless the contrary is proved”.

This meant that, for the purposes of the murder trial, the prosecution initially argued that the s.18 GBH conviction provided compelling evidence but not conclusive proof that the client committed the murder.

In preparing the case we instructed a number of medical experts, as did the prosecution. The medical experts’ stance was different from the evidence given at the original trial.  We argued that the S.18 GBH conviction was unsafe as the medical evidence used to convict the client had since been discredited and was no longer accepted as proper scientific opinion. We also argued that there was fresh evidence which raised a doubt as to whether the fatal injuries were as a result of the assault committed by the client.

The prosecution subsequently accepted the points made. The murder allegation was not pursued to trial and instead the client pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The prosecution have also indicated that they do not intend to challenge the appeal against conviction for S.18 GBH which had been lodged at the Court of Appeal.

This case shows that even where the evidence appears conclusive, a good lawyer will not simply accept the prosecution case but will seek to obtain fresh evidence and challenge evidence whenever possible.

If you are being investigated by the police for a similar offence or would like our criminal defence solicitors to advise you whether you have grounds to appeal a Crown Court conviction please do not hesitate to contact the team on 0161 696 6188.

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