Lawrence Verdict; Fingers Crossed, Tightly

Doreen Lawrence said that today’s verdict is no cause for celebration.  It certainly isn’t.  At best it represents a belated attempt by our criminal justice system to right the dismal wrong that was the original investigation into her son, Stephen Lawrence’s murder.

At worst, and I hesitate to say this, I fear there’s latitude for a miscarriage of justice.  Don’t get me wrong – I really hope they’ve got the right guys.   If they have then a lengthy spell inside will underline the message that, even if it takes a while, justice will catch up with racist thugs.

My misgivings are more down to two factors.  Firstly the conviction rests heavily on forensic evidence.  Although forensic evidence appears to offer empirical proof, a more reliable alternative to the memory and eyesight of human witnesses, it too is capable of being abused, compromised and misrepresented by lawyers and by ‘expert witnesses’.

Above all though I am mindful of the wider context of this trial.  Just like the trial of the Birmingham Six and of the Guildford Four there’s been huge pressure for a conviction.  That pressure is many fold; from a public that was, rightly, disgusted by the way the entire Lawrence case had been handled hitherto; from a political class that wants to convince people, not least our fellow citizens, neighbours and friends from the black community, that the system serves them as much as it serves anyone; from the campaigning media (not least the Daily Mail); from the police, who have had their fill of the flak this case has brought them and who want to be seem to be capable of doing their jobs.

The point is this –so many stood to lose much face had this trial resulted in a not guilty verdict.  That’s not an environment in which we can feel absolutely, one hundred percent certain that justice has been properly done.

I’ll say it again – I really, really hope they got the right guys.  I see no reason to believe they didn’t.  I certainly don’t want to get some particularly vile people off the hook.  However I am also reminded, worryingly, of situations where someone got banged up because someone had to get banged up.  God help us all if that ever turns out to have been the case.


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