Issue 308: 2022 01 20: “Sentence first…

Old Bailey and Lady Justice

20 January 2022

“Sentence First… 

verdict afterwards”  

by J.R.Thomas          

…verdict afterwards”.  How readers laughed when the Queen of Hearts insisted that the Knave of Heart’s head should be removed before time was wasted on any further court hearings, in Alice in Wonderland.  Was Lewis Carroll being satirical when he wrote that; or was he simply anticipating the concept of justice in an age of mass media?

Nobody nowadays it seems would dream of waiting for the trial of a person in the public eye to even be announced, let alone concluded, before leaping to comment, conclusion, and sentence.  Did Mr Johnson know that there was to be a party in his garden; was he really dragged from his desk (protesting no doubt he had many important documents to read and calls to make before his bedtime digestive and glass of warm milk) to join in; could he have reasonably thought this was a business meeting consisting of people habitually working together just adjourning outside for a breakout meeting in a more informal and outside setting; did he limit his stay to 25 minutes?    

The vast majority of commentators – by whom we mean the hundreds of thousands on Facebook and Twitter and all those other blastpipes we use when we feel it important to communicate our mostly uninformed views on, as well as those more professional types who devote their careers and talents to try to bring the populace careful researched knowledge- think the answers are respectively yes, and thrice no.  Most would sign Boris’s dismissal notice now; no point waiting to hear the results of the formal enquiry in progress.

But in truth not many people have much insight, or in most cases, any idea, as to the practical and legal answers to these questions, on which the Prime Minister’s future depends.  Nobody wants to wait until Sue Gray, Second Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office, has completed her formal enquiry; that is much too boring and formal.  Dominic Cummings says they were all there and it was a party, with forty people, and the Prime Minister and Mrs Prime Minister were there with Dylan.  Dom knows this because he was there too.  Er…Dom; ever heard of taking the 5th?  Maybe get a bit of advice before you say, as you threaten to say, much more after Ms Gray has reported.  And you would not be withholding things during a formal enquiry you intend to later reveal, would you Dom?  (In fact, if any of them should not have been there, then surely they will all have to be charged with illegal party jollification, not just Boris.)  Anyway, they were all drinking wine.  Wine! I ask you. And nibbling cheese.  Can we have an enquiry into whether the cheese was actually nibbled, or was it gnawed, or torn?  But there you are; Tories, you see, cheese and wine.  Maybe sausage rolls too.  Guilty as sin.  Hang ‘em all. And if Ms Gray says that the Prime Minister spaketh the truth and behaved immaculately and properly, well, she is obviously biased. Ignore her.

Bringing down a ministry on the basis of what a lot of people think might have happened, or indeed would like to believe happened, is one thing.  Jailing a prince is another.  But here again the verdicts have been issued, the guilt is without doubt, and the dirty old pervert ought to be locked away for the rest of his life.  Except of course, the trial has not even been arranged, the witnesses have not been heard and examined, the jury has not been convened, the Duke of York (for it is him whom we somewhat reluctantly defend) has denied all the allegations, refused (so far) to pay off his accuser, and insists, if American justice so requires, that he has his day in court, though preferably by video link.

Even his mother, truly a saint of our times, seems to be somewhat going along with the public shrieking by removing all his positions and titles of honour.  Understandable though it is that the Royal family does not want any of the stinky mud to stick to Andrew’s relatives, it is not helping his cause by hinting they may have doubts about his behaviour and standing. You do find out who your friends are at times like this.

Indeed, it is the nature of (no longer) HRH’s (no longer) friends that are the problem.  Prince Andrew has kept some strange company over the years; few boring aristocrats and grouse moors for him.  He likes, it seems, the company of the super-rich, and preferably new super rich at that.  Such persons can be enormously generous and kind, though wiser heads might wonder why, and give great parties, and help out when the cash flow is tight.  And sometimes that can lead to trouble, as it may have done for the Duke.  Or maybe it didn’t, and the truth is that he is a much wronged man.  Certainly, his ex-wife speaks loudly and kindly in his defence, and there are those that say he is hardworking and always anxious to do his bit for his country, as he did in the Falklands War.  

But that is the point of a trial; the evidence is presented and examined both ways, by prosecution and defence, guided by lawyers and a judge, and then the jury, in this case, will make up its mind.  Like many systems, it is not perfect, but nobody has yet come up with anything better.  The nature of the process being what it is, it used to be the rule that as little as possible was said prior to the trial so as not to prejudice the process.  But that was before social media took over our lives and our thumbs.  Much of what is and has been said about this unfortunate prince would, if it had been written in the newspapers twenty years ago, put the journalist, editor, and proprietor in a courtroom themselves, and probably lead to an application to set the original proceedings aside on the grounds that they had been prejudiced.  Not anymore it seems; even the newspapers, on grounds that they cannot control comments made on their on-line sites, allow remarkable on-line insinuations to be made and conclusions drawn.

There is no doubt that the Duke is unpopular with the general public; the afterglow of brave service in the RAF has long worn off, and he is seen as pompous, too fond of strange company, extravagant, and rather (it is rumoured) arrogant.  Well, maybe he is and maybe he ain’t, but what he is entitled to is a fair trial and a proper hearing and not to be lambasted with unpleasantness before he even gives evidence.  We will soon enough know whether he is a guilty or not; can’t we all shut up and wait until his days in court are over?

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