DISCLAIMER: The following is not comment on details of the Rangers fraud trial nor in any way is it an opinion on the part of the writer as to the guilt or innocence of defendants, other than the general presumption of innocence afforded to all…
The forthcoming trial of Craig Whyte, coming as it does in the wake of the collapsed cases of the other defendants, has generated a great deal of interest.
This is understandable but curiously this interest does not extend to mainstrean media so much as the Mad Max hinterland of social media, where mere trivialities like contempt of court prohibitions are ignored and scoffed at.
Such prohibitions exist to give defendants at least the semblance of a fair trial but also to put a brake on skewed comment and reporting in the wider world. This allows investigations by Police to be conducted in an impartial manner. Of course, it also assumes impartiality and lack of prejudice by Police officers doing the investigation.
Much hilarity has been generated over the rap on the knuckles given to Police Scotland over the botched investigation of Duff and Phelps’ role in the Rangers fraud trials. The public always love a good “Keystone Kops” moment. But before our guffaws get too loud, we should pause and think of some of the deeper issues of this case.
As a nation famed for and proud of its justice system, we should all be fervent in standing for the right of every person charged with a crime to get a fair trial. Just as equally we must hold to the principle of presumption of innocence until proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt resulting in conviction.
The problem with abrogating these principles is that to do is unjust and lawlessness. Suspicion of guilt must not become assumption.
Sadly, we see such assumption all over social media in the Rangers fraud trials. In Whyte’s case in particular, the pitchforks have been sharpened. Severe warnings regarding the court prohibitions sit pinned atop Rangers forums online but flagrant disregard for these warnings is seen in comments following.
Elsewhere online, the Whyte fraud trial is mocked so blatantly and outlandishly – with court prohibitions disregarded – that there is a growing school of thought some are determined to nobble the trial. In other words, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Serious stuff.
Everybody has opinions. Court restrictions on reporting or commenting on sensitive cases are a means of curbing prejudiced opinions unduly and unlawfully influencing a case.
Rather than see these restrictions as an irrelevant nuisance to be ignored or sidestepped, we should view them as both a vital and praiseworthy aspect of our rights and liberties. It is no less than the judicial system ptotecting the right of the individual to fairness in situations where that defendant may reasonably be expected to be victimised by prejudice.
In short, you may think Craig Whyte to be glaringly guilty but you have no right to assert this opinion in a manner which could prejudice the case. Indeed, you have a civic duty to keep your own counsel. Not for Craig Whyte’s sake but for thr sake of justice and civilised society.
Some will brush this off as too high falutin’ but if justice does not matter in some things, it matters not at all. Rights do not apply to anybody if they do not apply to everybody.
We live in a vindictive society where many are all too keen to cast the first stone. This is way too often based on presumption of guilt. But this is not the Wild West. We are not authorised to form lynching parties. Yes, the law is often an ass and the Police are often proved to be bumbling incompetents. But this does not give anybody the right to disregard the foundations of equity, justice and liberty that underpin our society. Neither does it allow us to cloak our vindictive desire for revenge under the guise of clamouring our justice.
The problem with flouting court restrictions is that we pollute the justice system we all must live by. We hamper the investigative efforts of our Police officers and often pull them away from their primary job of gathering evidence to buttress their case in order to deal with recalcitrants who flout court restrictions. Social media does not help, allowing anonymous mouthpieces the platform to say what they want, thinking they will not be discovered.
We should remember this the next time we laugh at the Police getting it wrong. The preponderance of many to throw their tuppence-worth into the pool only makes it a murkier job for hard-working Police officers to find what they need.
It was always going to be diificult getting a fair trial in this case. It is a highly emotive and volatile issue for many. The events of the past few years at Ibrox have produced massive seismic shocks in football and wider society. It is also difficult for any evidence to be gathered by Police Scotland in cases involving either of the Old Firm because so few people are impartial and so many are tinted with prejudice.
But it is still the responsibility of the court to do its best to uphold fairness.
And it is our responsibility as citizens to comply with the will of the court that nothing is broadcast which could be deemed contempt of court. This includes declaration of one’s personal opinion as to guilt or innocence of defendants and also flagrantly defying reporting restrictions. Admittedly, there are grey areas where it is difficult to determine if one is in contempt of court or not. This ambiguity can lead to mainstream media giving out the scantiest of information for fear of a breach.
Taking a broad sweep of social media and also talking to people in true life as my kids call it, it is evident many are slavering for Whyte to get “sent down” or get “what’s coming to him.” There is also a contrary view from particular factions who seem to be agitating for the case to be thrown out. Both approaches are noxious and both are unlawful. A fair trial before a judge or a jury of our peers is fundamental to our human rights. If we deny it to one, we tarnish our own community and we sow the seeds of injustice which we will likely reap ourselves one day.
Let the judicial system do its job. Ours is to prop it up by embodying the principles of justice and fairness it is built on.