Blood on the Page

Monday, 29 January 2018 | James Mullion

James Mullion reviews the book on the Wang Yam case featuring Janes Solicitors.  The book has been released to widespread acclaim. Read our own review here:

Janes Solicitors were instructed on the Wang Yam case when he was initially arrested and extradited to the UK in 2006 up until the end of 2016 (not off the street as suggested in the book, but as a result of a referral from Peters and Peters/BCL Solicitors ). The case has been subjected to enormous publicity as a result of a gagging order imposed by the Court preventing any publication from reporting or even speculating on Mr Yam’s defence. It is a unique case and from a purely professional point of view is of enormous interest to any lawyer, particularly this writer given my involvement throughout the proceedings.

So when I was approached and asked to co-operate in a book about the subject, there is a certain frisson of excitement when you realise that finally, after all these years, somebody is going to put your name in print. From a purely selfish standpoint, you wonder how you are going to be portrayed.

There is a tendency among people to think, probably as a result of clinging to faith in Enlightenment notions of institutional democracy, that a verdict in a criminal case is a purely rational product of the evidence. The obvious truth though, is that the legal process is not a purely technical one and that human beings are swayed just as much by subconscious and emotional factors beyond our capacity for self-determined, “rational” thought. Until such time as human beings are taken out of running the legal process altogether that will always be the case.

That is the point that the author and journalist Thomas Harding fastens on in his book “Blood on the Page:  A Murder, a Secret, a Search for the Truth”. A swift, page-turning procedural detailing the infamous murder case of Wang Yam, it ultimately comes to the conclusion that Wang Yam was convicted as a result of “confirmation bias” within the criminal justice system.

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs. Thus all the police investigating Wang Yam, once they had found their man, saw the evidence only as a means further indicating his guilt, rather than raising the possibility that others were involved. The same applied to all those involved in deciding the case thereafter. Mr Harding, having examined and set out the evidence in detail, concludes that there is no “rational” basis for the jury in reaching a verdict of guilt given that the evidence indicating others were involved was so prevalent and that the prosecution’s theory of a bungled burglary had no credibility when seen in the light of the evidence.

Of course, and famously, this case is seen within the context of its secrecy and uniqueness within the UK legal pantheon. The fact that we are still not allowed to discuss or speculate on various aspects of Mr Yam’s case and the implications this has for open justice within this country are serious and these are dealt with in the book. At the end the reader has a feeling of incompleteness, which is precisely what the author wishes to achieve. One day, hopefully, we will be able to publicly examine the restricted elements of this case and ultimately be able to reach a more “rational” view of this mysterious case.

The book as a whole is a well researched, readable and fascinating account of a unique case and one I hope reaches the greater public it deserves.

James Mullion
Partner, Janes Solicitors

28th January 2018

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