The release this week of Sean Hodgson rightly throws up a lot of questions. The case against him didn't seem to share the paucity of evidence that some miscarriages of justice present.
It does however show yet again the problem of relying on confession evidence. It was a feature of many of the high-profile cases from the 70s (Guildford Four/Birmingham Six etc). The introduction of PACE stopped some of the more outrageous ‘verballing’, but the practice still goes on.
Firstly, there hasn’t been enough research (or if there has, it’s not accessible and in front of the courts) as to why people confess and whether these confessions are reliable.
What Sean Hodgson’s case shows is that confession evidence is no substitute for ‘real’ evidence. Isn’t it time to look again at the rules of evidence so that less weight is put on confessions? If the aim of an investigation is to secure a confession (as that is seen as the ‘best evidence’) then isn’t there a clear danger that the police will focus on this, to the absence of pursuing other leads?
Whilst the police don’t beat people any more to get a confession, it is worrying that so many high-profile cases rely, in whole or in part, on ‘cell confessions’. Anyone who reads the Court of Appeal judgment in the Michael Stone case should be appalled that someone could be convicted on such feeble evidence. If I was sent to prosecute an ABH on that evidence, I would be embarrassed to put it in front of a jury. In truth, the case would never even get that far. It’s just too weak. But when it’s a murder, it seems that different rules apply.