Lord Janner will be forced to appear in court to face 22 child sex abuse charges despite his lawyers claiming he is ‘unfit’
- Lord Janner fails to appear in court for abuse hearing because of dementia
- But judge rules that he is required by law to stand in the dock
- CPS head under pressure after decision not to prosecute was overturned
- Labour peer is accused of 22 sex attacks on children over 19 years
First appearance? Lord Janner failed to appear in court today to face child sex charges – but will be forced to attend next time
Lord Janner was today ordered to appear in court after he failed to arrive to face 22 child sex charges because of his dementia.
Chief magistrate Howard Riddle refused to accept the defence’s claim the Labour peer would suffer a ‘catastrophic reaction’ if he was forced to stand in the dock.
The district judge said: ‘He wouldn’t have to enter pleas, he wouldn’t have to say anything. I imagine he would be here for less than two minutes. It matters not whether he understands the proceedings‘.
He added: ‘There is only one issue: is he fit enough to come through that door for less than one minute?’
The former Labour peer and MP, 87, who has Alzheimer’s, faces a trial of fact over 22 child sex charges in 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
His lawyer Andrew Smith QC told the first court hearing in the case at Westminster Magistrates Court: ‘Lord Janner is not in attendance. The reason for that submission on his part is that he is unfit to face the court.’
Giving evidence for Janner, Dr James Warner, who has 20 years experience working with dementia, told the court: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that Lord Janner has dementia and that it is severe.’
He added that Janner’s condition was ‘beginning to really impact on his day to day life’, and that he was ‘highly likely to become distressed’ in court.
He said the severity of dementia ‘would impair to a very significant extent his ability to communicate verbally’ and that ‘he would not be able to understand that he was in court’.
Dr Warner added that Janner was also showing the early signs of Parkinson’s.
But despite this Mr Justice Riddle ruled he was required by law to attend and the court was adjourned to allow lawyers to determine when he might appear.
Case: Clare Montgomery QC, pictured today, who defended General Pinochet, is prosecuting the case while Dr James Warner and Dr Norman Poole, right, were used as defence witnesses during today’s hearing
Case: Janner did not appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today after his lawyers argued he was unfit
Mr Riddle told today’s hearing that while there was ‘absolutely no doubt’ Janner suffered from severe dementia the section 51 hearing ‘does require the defendant’s presence’.
He agreed with the prosecution’s argument that many defendants find court appearances distressing and that after their initial short appearance at magistrates courts means were found to accommodate them.
Mr Riddle said: ‘I have heard evidence from the two experts that in the context of today’s hearing there is likely to be distress and that is what has been described as ‘catastrophic distress’. But what it means as I understand it is that the defendant may well become intolerant of the process, irritable and may indeed leave.
‘I further understand, and this is very significant, it is likely to have no long term effect on him.
‘He must appear for a comparatively short period of time. He is free to go if he becomes distressed. This (hearing) will probably be achieved in less than a minute. Nevertheless the law requires his presence.’
The Labour peer’s hearing came after an independent review overturned Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders’ decision that he should not be put on trial because of his health.
The 87-year-old peer’s family strongly denies claims he used his power as an MP for Leicester to abuse vulnerable young boys at a local children’s home.
If he is eventuallly deemed unfit to stand it is likely justice will continue in his absence.
Called a trial of the facts, where a jury hears the evidence against an individual considered too ill for a full trial, is expected to be held into the 22 offences allegedly committed over three decades.
The decision not to prosecute him earlier this year led to calls for Ms Saunders – head of the CPS – to resign her post.
Pressure increased further when she told critics: ‘Challenge me in court’ and then she lost and was forced into a humbling U-turn.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale who has campaigned for the case to be heard in court, said then that Ms Saunders was responsible for a ‘catalogue of errors’.
He said: ‘I think she should resign for an number of reasons. She has made a number of bad judgments and she is just not fit to do the job.
‘She ignored her advisers, took a long time to make the decision, then announced it when Parliament was not sitting although there was significant public interest.
‘We cannot have somebody leading the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who is cold and dispassionate towards alleged victims.’
Last seen: Lord Janner pictured outside his house in London in 2014. It is said he now needs round the clock care as he suffers from advanced dementia
Criticism: Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders has resisted calls for her resignation after she chose not to put Janner on trial – a decision that was later overturned
A judge will have to decide if Lord Janner is fit to plead. If he is not, a jury will be asked to decide whether he did the acts he is charged with.
The judge will also have to rule on whether the defendant should appear during the trial or can be excused on medical grounds.
A trial of the facts is not considered a trial as such because the defendant cannot put forward a defence.
There is therefore no guilty verdict and the court cannot pass sentence.
All it can do is make a hospital order, a supervision order, or an order for the defendant’s absolute discharge.
Ms Saunders’s decision in April not to charge Lord Janner was reviewed after six of the complainants made a request under a scheme introduced two years ago giving victims the right to challenge CPS decisions.
She is the first DPP to have a major prosecuting decision reviewed and overturned through the new policy.
An independent inquiry into child sex abuse being led by Justice Lowell Goddard is also due to hear evidence from the complainants.
Ms Saunders said in June: ‘I don’t think in any way it’s a resigning matter.
‘It shows the process we have implemented works, it shows we will look at victims’ right to review and overturn decisions when we decide that’s the right thing to do.
‘Certainly over the last 18 months there is nothing else there that says I should be resigning, so I won’t be.’
THE ACCUSATIONS: 22 SEX ATTACKS SPANNING NEARLY TWO DECADES
By Alison Saunders’ own admission, the evidence against Lord Janner was strong enough in relation to no fewer than nine victims to place before a court.
The Labour peer is suspected of carrying out 22 sex attacks against young victims, including a girl, who were in local authority care. They allegedly took place over a 19 years and include:
- 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988
- Two indecent assaults between 1984 and 1988
- Four counts of serious sexual assault on a male under 16 between 1972 and 1987
- Two counts of serious sexual assault between 1977 and 1988
Around 25 victims are thought to have contacted police as part of the investigation. The main claims investigated by Leicestershire Police centre on Janner’s alleged friendship with Frank Beck, a paedophile care home manager jailed in 1991 for a string of sex offences.
One of those prepared to give evidence against Janner is Hamish Baillie, 47, who lived in Beck’s care home and alleges that at 15 he was molested by the peer during a game of hide-and-seek.
Another complainant who formed part of the inquiry is Ray Dunkley, 56, who said he was indecently assaulted when Janner visited his primary school in 1966 – four years before he was elected an MP.
Since the decision in April not to prosecute Janner, more alleged victims are believed to have come forward, with at least 30 now said to have spoken to police.
Police have launched a separate investigation into allegations that Janner took a teenage boy to Scotland in the 1970s and sexually assaulted him.
IF LORD JANNER IS ‘UNFIT’ TO STAND TRIAL – WHAT HAPPENS?
The case against Lord Janner is likely to be tested under a little-known law which allows for a ‘trial of the facts’ – but there is no prospect of him receiving any punishment.
Under the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964 a judge can decide, on medical evidence, that a person is unfit to plead.
In the case of Janner, he has been assessed by four medical experts – two acting for the Crown Prosecution Service and two for the Labour peer’s defence team. All agreed that, owing to degenerative dementia, his evidence could not be relied upon in court and he could not have any meaningful engagement with the court process.
The judge in charge of the case will, at the outset, make a formal declaration in open court that he is unfit for trial. He will then ask a jury to decide – on the basis of evidence given by prosecution lawyers, including statements provided by alleged victims – whether or not Janner did the acts he was accused of.
A defence team will be able to put the case for Janner, though he will not need to be in court.
The law is clear that it is not a formal trial, and should not be described as one, because the defendant cannot put forward a defence himself.
As a result, there is no verdict of guilty and the court cannot pass a criminal sentence. All it can do is to make a hospital order, a supervision order or an order for the defendant’s absolute discharge. Essentially, it is there to protect the public – not deliver a punishment. In Janner’s case, because of his age and ill health, whatever the outcome he is highly unlikely to be considered any threat.
Recent examples of findings of fact hearings include the case of ex-Labour MP Margaret Moran, who falsely claimed £53,000 in expenses.
The jury heard the case in her absence after a judge ruled she was unfit to stand trial for mental health reasons. Moran was placed under a supervision and treatment order.
And John Hammond, an Army veteran with dementia, was given a hospital order after a jury found he murdered his wife of 50 years by stabbing her 16 times in Alsager, Cheshire.
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