Class Justice and the Royal Mint
R v Copeland (Appellant)
Class justice means, essentially, that the principles of justice operate inequitably in favour of one class of people in relation to other classes. A basic definition of “class” is a division of society according to status, or a number of individuals possessing common attributes and grouped together under a general or class name.
Class justice functions when justice is done in favour of one class against another. In England in the early twenty-first century, this means that justice can often be seen to operate in favour of the rich and powerful against the poor and the weak.
Class justice is exemplified by the prosecution of petty offenders against property while major criminals can appear to be immune.
This is not purely a theoretical concept. It has serious implications for people in their everyday lives.
The case of John Wynne and the Royal Mint
The case of John Wynne, employed by the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, South Wales, has highlighted the legal rules and procedures surrounding Crown immunity as a clear example of class justice. The facts, so far as reported in the national press, were that in 2001 Mr Wynne (W), suffered fatal crushing injuries when a six-tonne furnace fell from a crane. W, aged 50, had worked in the metal rolling department of the Mint for 21 years.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found itself unable to prosecute the Mint for breaches of health and safety legislation. Instead, it brought Crown Censure proceedings. At the hearing of these proceedings it was stated that the Mint had failed to follow safety procedures. The hearing was not open to the public. A report of the hearing was sent to the government, the Royal Mint and the HSE. W’s widow was not entitled to a copy of the report.
W’s widow is reported to have commented that she was shown pictures at the hearing which showed the furnace hanging from a crane, but not sitting on the hook properly. The furnace was balancing on the top and it fell. It had fallen once before, and no-one was hurt. The Mint’s management had not carried out safety checks. If they had done so, they would have realised that it was faulty and the accident could never have happened.
An HSE inspector is reported to have made the following points to the hearing:
W’s death was an accident waiting to happen.
There was sufficient evidence to bring a criminal prosecution against the Mint.
Although Crown property, including the Mint, has to comply with health and safety regulations, it cannot be prosecuted because the Crown cannot prosecute itself.
The shadowy issue of Crown immunity arises in the context of both criminal and civil proceedings. Crown immunity is an ancient, obscure and complex area of law with significant practical implications. The concept is inextricably bound up with the development of the unwritten British Constitution and the relationship between the monarch, central government, legislation and the enforcement of criminal law.