On Wednesday 5 January 2022, four individuals were acquitted of causing criminal damage to the Edward Colston statue in Bristol. The reaction from some in the media to this verdict has been dramatic, bordering on hysterical.
Let’s be clear on what the verdict is not. It is not a precedent. It is not a charter for vandals. Nor is it an attempt to erase our history. It is a jury decision, based on the evidence in the case and the application of legal directions given by the most senior judge in Bristol. It is not a “perverse” verdict. The judge made clear that the defendants could have had a “lawful excuse” and that it was up to the jury decide.
It is the criminal justice system in action. 12 randomly selected people from the local area decided on guilt or innocence. It is not for headline writers in Fleet Street or government minsters to decide. It is for the jury to decide.
When Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, announced his consultation on a “British Bill of Rights” in December 2021, he made a point to referenced the right to free speech and trials by juries specifically. These would be “quintessentially UK rights” that were deserving of more protection.
Yet as we have seen in the fall out since the verdict, this government only believes in these rights if they agree with what is happening in a case – otherwise, the attack dogs are out.
Suella Braverman’s comments that the verdict had caused confusion and so is considering referring any legal issues to the Court of Appeal, is frankly, grotesque.