Like everyone else, I was horrified by the reports of the Michaela McAreavey murder in Mauritius, and I was also horrified by the line of questioning adopted by the defence team, but at the same time, there are other things to take into account. Mauritius is a tiny country with a very low crime rate and when a high-profile crime happens, the authorities are very unlikely to handle it properly. They have no experience of investigating such a killing, they have no experience of preserving a crime scene and they have little experience of preserving the chain of evidence.
The likelihood is that they’re going to make a complete mess of it, but we in Ireland are in no position to point the finger. We in Ireland are no strangers to this sort of screw-up: all you have to do is look at the Kerry Babies disaster to see the same sort of bumbling incompetence from a police force faced with events it has no grasp of.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the Mauritian police beat the lard out of the two suspects, as hinted at yesterday when the police witness failed to account for 90 minutes of a suspect’s detention. The murder of a Western visitor is huge news, potentially spelling the end of the Mauritian tourism industry, and is therefore something that commands the attention of government at the highest level. I don’t think anyone could doubt that politicians were on the phone immediately demanding results from some hapless police chief. Can there be the slightest possibility that the local cops were not determined to catch somebody — anybody?
I think they possibly beat the living hell out of their two suspects, who may or may not be guilty. I also know that the job of a defence attorney is to defend his client no matter what, and to expose any gap in the prosecution case. Therefore, despite my revulsion at the attempt to introduce a salacious, prurient dimension, I can see where they’re going. The Mauritian legal structure is strongly related to Common Law on which our system is based, it is independent and it’s also impartial. Any defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and can only be convicted if the evidence shows his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, if the defence can show that there’s an alternative reading of events, they have demonstrated that the case against their client is not proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Advocacy is a nasty business and not something most of us would be any good at. I was involved in a small court case recently, which I’m glad to say I won, and when the opposing lawyer suggested that I wasn’t being truthful, I took it very personally. I know I’m a truthful person and I can’t understand the idea that anyone would give evidence that is less than honest, yet, all my lawyer friends laughed at me when I complained about the opposing line of questioning. This is normal. You have to smear the opposition.
The fact that the Mauritian lawyer is talking about a “sex book”, which turns out simply to be a women’s magazine, says much about the cultural divide between us and them, and yes, it does make the Mauritians look ridiculous, but at the same time, he’s doing his professional best for his clients even if everyone else finds his line of questioning ludicrous.
It’s a dirty, horrible business, but at the same time, if you or I were accused of a crime, we’d be very grateful to have some legal thug have a go at the prosecution and pick every possible hole in their case.
Especially if you or I were innocent, as these two men might well be.