Alastair Stewart: Was Colston about Human Rights or Hooliganism?
Alastair Stewart says, 'whatever the outcome, we should accept it but, for that reason, I think an appeal is not only sensible, I think it is wise.'
Well now it's time for my take...
Half-way through my time as an undergraduate at Bristol University - yes, I do know a bit about Bristol! - I decided I wanted to become a lawyer after I’d finished doing economics.
In truth it was because I wanted to be an MP and the law was a nice little earner while also being a representitive of the people.
A little light defence or prosecution in the morning and then a little legislation in the afternoon and evening - nice mix, I thought.
I had a place at the LSE and a pupillage lined up so I was serious about it. I’d also decided I wanted to be a barrister, not a solicitor. Solicitors, a friend, said, prepare the papers and do the donkey work. Barristers get to perform, to play the arguments, to cross-examine, to do the drama. But it was mainly the nuanced but of working out the clever arguments based on law that appealed to me.
In the end I went into TV so we will never know if I was the next Perry Mason or Rumpole of the Bailey: probably for the best!
Anyway, that toying with the subtle arguments clearly, appealed to the defence lawyers in the case of the Colston Four. As I explained at the top of the show, they crafted a defence based on the four being offended by the existence of the Colston statue; that its very presence was an offence to the people of Bristol; and that their own human right not to be offended had been breached.
Therefore they were within their rights to tear it down and dump it.
One of the lawyers also argued to the jury that their verdict would resonate around the world.The judge told them to ignore that bit but otherwise allows the defence.
The jury considered it all, in secrecy, and declared the four innocent. English law doesn’t allow for the verdict to be appealed but the Attorney General is considering an appeal on points of law and evidence. I think she is right.The law must not only be passed in parliament but it needs to be accepted by the people.
Many won’t like bits of law and will contest it but the law is the law. If, however, it loses credibility, there is a profound problem for democracy. That much is worth considering by a higher court.
To me, the biggest problem rests with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The right not to be offended by a lump of bronze - whatever and whoever it represents - seems to me to be a right too far. I abhor slavery and those that profited from the trade. But I respect the rule of law. If people, centuries ago, erected a statue to a man who both did good as well as bad, that was a matter for the people of that time.
Colston made a fortune from slavery but also gave much of it back to the people of Bristol by building public venues, schools and housing. It is not for folk to edit our street furniture to satisfy their senitivities. Explain, contextualise and educate - that is the way forward.
The four have been found not guilty and that is that. But the legal arguments and statutes upon which they were based beg questions then let those questions be examined and addressed.
Whatever the outcome, we should accept it but, for that reason, I think an appeal is not only sensible, I think it is wise.