It seems that Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby, is appealing against his conviction. The average person, with an average comprehension of the concept of guilt, might think this a little odd, but we have come to expect such appeals as a standard part of our criminal justice system.
It’s hard not to remember Lee Rigby. He is the soldier of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was murdered on the streets of Woolwich in May 2013. The case was horrific, as the images and news reports of the murder testified at the time. One might say it was barbaric, but we tend to resist such words for their other connotations – though it was barbaric; there is no disputing the truth of that statement.
We know that Adebolajo is guilty for two reasons. Firstly, there was the evidence we all got to see thanks to witnesses capturing the incident on their smartphones and then passing them on to various media outlets for transmission. Citizen journalism, I think it’s called. The images were enough to show pretty conclusive guilt, but when added to the admission and preposterous rhetoric of these Islamists – ‘soldier of Allah’ and the like – the evidence is damning.
Secondly, and most importantly, the jury sitting in the Old Bailey found him guilty. That is how we measure criminal guilt – innocent until proven guilty and all that. Magna Carta is our primary reference for jury trials, and Adebolajo was found guilty ‘by lawful judgement of his peers’ and by ‘the law of the land.’ Thus he is guilty. Any other system is arbitrary in nature, so we should be thankful that we have this tradition and that the jury was allowed to make its free decision on the guilt of these men.
But there is a problem. In fact, there are several problems. Although the guilty verdict was made in December 2013, neither of the killers has yet been sentenced. This is, as the presiding High Court judge, Sir Nigel Sweeney, tells us, because he is waiting for another Appeal Court ruling. There it is: a criminal, who has not received sentence because of an appeal, is lodging his own appeal against his conviction. As Shakespeare might have said: ‘The course of true justice never did run smooth.’ On this occasion, we await the result of the EU’s challenge to the British approach to whole-life sentences. Another knotty little issue!
A second problem is that Adebolajo is appealing at all. We have a system of appeal to protect the innocent from injustice. We like our jury system, but occasionally juries get it wrong, or new evidence comes forward after the original trial, or lawyers abuse accepted legal procedure. And yet it is hard to see on what grounds either of these two murderers might appeal against their convictions. It seems that appealing is simply the thing that happens after a conviction, even in the most clear-cut of cases.
Considering the evidence, the most likely outcome is for the appeal to be rejected at the first hearing. But it will be interesting to see what the lawyers come up with. If it’s good, then the public might just wear it, but if it’s just another spurious and legalistic game, then anger and cynicism might just be the outcome.