THE COURT of Appeal has hit back at a campaigning TV programme which accused it of putting the interests of the legal profession above the interests of justice.
In a recent episode of Trial and Error, the programme alleged the court had refused to hear crucial evidence at the appeal of 64-year-old Sheila Bowler, convicted of murdering her elderly aunt in 1993.
Trial and Error claims qualms over criticisms of the original defence prompted the rejection of evidence it says would have proved the aunt could have walked unaided to the river where she drowned.
In an unusual move, Master Michael McKenzie QC, Registrar of Criminal Appeals, wrote to The Lawyer complaining the programme's allegations are “manifestly unfair” (page 16).
He says the judgment showed that the court “simply found the statutory test for the admission of fresh evidence on appeal was not satisfied”.
The “theoretical report” by a geriatrics expert “would have been manifestly incredible in the light of the first-hand evidence which was given at the trial,” he says. “Far from assisting the appellant's case, the court found it would have been positively damaging to it.”
Trial and Error's presenter David Jessel has stood by the programme, claiming the original defence mounted by Nicholas Purnell QC coloured the whole appeal.
He urged that the issue should not become a cause celebre between the media and the Court of Appeal, but said “a mountain of lurking doubt” remained. “The real issue should have been the capacity of the alleged victim to walk to an accidental death, a matter never canvassed at trial.
“The court preferred the views of staff at a residential home, never challenged by the original defence, to the opinion of the country's leading expert in geriatric mobility, whose opinions are no more 'theoretical' than those of any other expert witness.”
The appeal was heard in May by Lord Justice Swinton Thomas, Mr Justice Latham and Mr Justice Morison.