Justice is a delicate thing: reflections on the Stephen Lawrence case

Yesterday, 2 men were convicted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 18 years ago. Today, the newspaper headlines are themed by the notion of justice.

The Times: “Convictions mean justice at last for Lawrence”
The Independent: “The moment Doreen Lawrence’s 19-year wait for justice ended
The Guardian: “Stephen Lawrence verdict delivers justice after 18-year wait

I am not convinced that everyone is agreed on what the notion of justice means. To me, it is something entirely different from retribution, though some less savoury aspects of the press seem unable to make this distinction. It has been noted (e.g. by The Sun & the Daily Mail) that at an earlier trial 3 others were declared ‘not guilty’ of Stephen’s murder. There are now some calls for a re-examination of the accusations made against them.

The BBC had a particularly ill-judged section on this in the 10 o’clock news last night, when one of their camera crews and a reporter turned up at the home of one of these 3 men demanding that he answer their questions. If any further convictions are to come about, then the appropriate judicial process has to be followed, not trial by media.

I cannot speak for the innocence or guilt of these men, as I do not have access to all the evidence. Yet, in this country at least, the idea of presumed innocence until proven guilty is under threat.

It has to be remembered why Gary Dobson & David Norris were made to face a second trial. It was because there was new evidence which was not available at their first trial. This was the idea behind the repeal of the double jeopardy law. If there is no such new evidence against the remaining 3 men, then it would be a great injustice to make them face trial again, as that indicates that the only reason is a presumed guilt and that the original trial verdict was incorrect.

It may be the case that the trial verdict is incorrect and that they did perpetrate the crime. But without evidence to support this, the default position has to remain the presumption of innocence, nomatter what our gut instincts may be.

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