Anorak | Contempt and the contemptible: Can there be justice for Lee Rigby and Georgia Williams?

Contempt and the contemptible: Can there be justice for Lee Rigby and Georgia Williams?

by | 4th, June 2013

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FEW people in this country will be unaware of the circumstances in which Drummer Lee Rigby died . The combination of live video, a woman’s confrontation of a suspect at the scene and the unstoppable social media brought the tragedy into every living room.

Many of us will also have been saddened by the disappearance of the teenager Georgia Williams last weekend. A body that is thought to be hers has been found and a young man has been charged with murdering her.

It is in the interests of everyone that whoever perpetrated these crimes is brought to justice.

Armchair criminologists will already see both as open-and-shut cases, yet some will have to serve on the juries that determine whether the men in the dock are guilty and of what crime.

Contempt laws are in place to try to ensure that anyone accused of a crime has a fair trial and also that the prosecution is not hampered in holding the guilty to account.

These laws can be frustrating I remember Harry Evans coming to my local paper in the 70s and declaring the contempt rules to be the biggest official obstruction to British journalism. This is especially so when we look across the Atlantic and see the freedom enjoyed by American reporters. It’s not quite as gung-ho as the musical Chicago would suggest, but the regime is a lot looser than ours.

For the time being, however, we are stuck with the law as it stands, which restricts what can be published once someone has been charged.

MPs have greater freedom than the media as they are protected by parliamentary privilege, and David Cameron used that freedom in his statement to the Commons this afternoon. But how helpful was this to the principles of a fair trial and innocent until proven guilty?

He told MPs that he had set up a task force to find out how ‘the suspects were radicalised and whether anything more could have been done to stop them’. Those who committed ‘this callous and abhorrent crime’, he continued, ‘sought to justiify their actions by extremist ideology’. And in conclusion he described the killing of Drummer Rigby as an horrific murder.

This is a seriously tricky case for politicians and press alike. Two men have been charged with murdering Drummer Rigby under our criminal law. They are not charged with terrorism offences. For the Prime Minister to call them ‘suspects’ offers barely an oakleaf of caution to cover the damning assumptions about their guilt, their

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Posted: 4th, June 2013 | In: News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink