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I fight the law to gain justice
2:00pm Wednesday 12th September 2012 in News
LAWYER and founder of the charity Reprieve Clive Stafford-Smith brought the debate about capital punishment and the justice system to Bridport .
He held a book-signing session at Waterstones in East Street at the weekend and is also due to appear at The Book Shop in South Street from 10am to noon this coming Saturday.
His new book – Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America – outlines the case of British citizen Khris Maharaj, who is imprisoned in America for murder.
In it Mr Stafford-Smith is taking the American justice system to court – the court of public opinion – and he is hoping for a fairer trial than was given to the man who has become his friend over the last nearly two decades.
Mr Stafford-Smith said: “I enjoyed writing the book but I also felt it was something I had to do because I had basically failed Khris in a court of law for 18 years so we needed to find someone who would pay attention.”
He said he was hoping the book would stir up enough frustration and anger that something would get changed about the system – a system that allows the prosecution, among other things, to withhold its evidence from the defence until after the suspect is found guilty.
He added: “One can only do what one can do and I am grateful that people have supported the project.”
One of those is former lawyer and best seller John Grisham who has given his support, and his cash, to help.
Mr Stafford-Smith said: “That is important and good that he has put his weight behind it.
“We can’t expect Utopia to be ushered in overnight but the only crime is to do nothing.”
But he is hoping that his home town of Bridport will do something to lobby and protest an unfair justice system that sees prisoners languishing for years on death row or facing inequitable obstacles to proving their innocence.
He is on record as saying innocent people are the hardest to defend – and he is convinced Khris Majaraj is one of them.
He said: “In this case particularly and because he has connections with my family, that makes it a bit more personal. I have represented him for 18 years – he is someone I know very well. It is like having a close friend locked up.
“I think there are many rules that would not exist if sensible average people knew about them.
“For example the notion of whether or not you are innocent is not legally relevant under the US constitution as to whether you should be executed.
“It is because we leave it to all these lawyers arguing over the number of angels on the head of a pin that this stuff is allowed to perpetuate. That is the reason for the book. I want people to know how unjust the justice system is because I don’t think people know that.
“It is not just America, many of the same things apply in Britain.
“It is not quite as badly off as America but still has plenty of similar problems.”
Mr Stafford-Smith, who has also defended many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has been called a fanatic, even a dangerous one.
He accepts people have the right to those opinions but would rather they didn’t use them to keep people like Khris Majaraj in jail.
Mr Stafford-Smith’s opposition to the death penalty began when he was 12, apparently after seeing images, which bore an uncanny likeness to his sister, of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake and nothing in his career as an international lawyer has changed his mind.