THE BLOG

Britain's Legal System Shines in the Face of Adversity

31/12/2013 11:48 GMT | Updated 01/03/2014 10:59 GMT

Less than a week ago, the family of a man killed in horrific circumstances had to relive their traumatic experiences. The relations and friends of Lee Rigby had been in the Old Bailey since the beginning of the trial of the men accused of murdering him, and one must hope that the guilty verdict delivered to his killers can go some way towards lessening the pain of his death.

For the rest of the nation, too, the conviction of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale must have represented an uncomfortable déjà vu. After all, we had all seen it before: the mutilated body, lying in the road. The bloody hands of a killer, gesticulating menacingly as he calmly recited murderous propaganda into nearby camera lenses. And the final action of the drama, in which the self-declared 'soldiers of Islam' threw themselves at police, only to be brought down in a hail of bullets.

The two men who killed Rigby are now facing prison sentences - not the ramshackle execution which they themselves had carried out on an innocent. It must be stated, and I am aware that this is a cliché, that this outcome represents true Justice. Not in some arbitrary twitch of a steering wheel, but with courts, lawyers and the presumption of innocence.

Britain has demonstrated that the trappings of a free and fundamentally democratic society cannot be thrown aside to satisfy mob sentiment. Our legal system did not cave in: be it in the popular certainty of the guilt of the pair - which I know that I felt - or in the pressure, from some quarters, for partial treatment of two thugs who firebombed a mosque in a sickening tit-for-tat 'revenge attack'.

This demonstrates, even more pertinently, the reason why our national values (I am writing here of those values of the Enlightenment) must be upheld against any form of tyranny or authoritarianism: the one party state or the party of one god. Crackpot fascists - of a political or religious origin - need to be resisted. In some cases, resistance can even take the form or simply preventing extremists from hijacking the narrative, and unduly dominating the public sphere.

And that is precisely the reason why moderate Muslims were so appalled when Anjem Choudary (the former leader of the now banned Islam4UK group: universally described as a "hate preacher") was given the prime spot on the Today programme the morning after the verdict of the jury. He refused, despite frequent, and some might say wheedling, attempts from John Humphrys to elicit some condemnation of the attack in question. Humphrys, in a choice of words which must have brought immense fear to BBC bosses, even offered to make a 'deal' with Choudary: in which the fanatic would be made to express insincere sadness at this death, in exchange for being given more freedom to rant about how the British brought this on themselves.

It is legitimate to criticise the fact that Choudary aired his somewhat niche opinions in the prime interview of a national state-funded radio show. It is not legitimate, however, to criticise his right to hold or express his views, repugnant as they are. This is another aspect of liberal, Western, democracy to be admired: the fundamental freedoms of speech and thought. Another pair of hard-won freedoms which must not fall by the wayside. Populism and fanaticism cannot be allowed to win.

The whole situation has shown that process and traditional justice must not be abandoned - even in the face of seemingly overwhelming political pressures or circumstances which generate a large public response.

As a nation, we ought to be proud of our legal system. While it has its faults - all comprehensive codes do - it still provides the model for courtrooms which is followed around the world: one in which you are not guilty merely because it is 'known' that you did it.

The trial of Lee Rigby's killers, and the recent case involving a violation of the rules of war by a certain "Marine A", added to the subsequent coverage in the papers and elsewhere, has demonstrated to me the manifest successes of the way in which we do things. Both trials were not open and shut affairs, and it is to the immense credit of those presiding over such occasions that they did not turn into shows of justice. Instead, they transcended petty politics, and shone as examples of what is truly the best way to go about such business.

James Snell is a Columnist for Trending Central where this article first appeared.