Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Not for the first time the media this morning is full of allegations against senior people. The glee of the witch hunt is in the UK media over anything to do with sexual assault or sexual abuse. This fevered reporting has been going on since the death of Jimmy Saville. Barely a day goes by without some new scandal or alleged cover up of abuse. Mere association is enough to sometimes be dragged through the mire of a newspaper’s indignation. Saville nor his alleged victims (I know they claim their is no alleged involved) will never have their day in court to legally judge his guilt or innocence. Nor can his reputation be tested with civil proceedings for libel or slander. Instead redress is being sought through various on-going inquiries which in turn has snared many others. Some will and have been found guilty, others have been cleared. The basic tenant of our legal system is innocent until proven guilty. With all these widespread allegations and smears it would be wise for the media and in particular newspaper editors to remember that.

As outsiders to this process we have an interest in hearing of the failures of various authorities to even investigate the allegations. We all believe that the state’s apparatus will be used to at least investigate. From what is public knowledge it is clear that this failed, for several reasons. Disbelief, ignorance, lack of evidence, or conspiracy and cover up may all form part or all of these reasons. Even proposed leaders of one of the proposed inquiries have had to step down for merely knowing one of the politicians involved. Further delay will incur.

I am not a victim, by that very fact I cannot fully understand the pain and grief that victims have gone through. I can sympathise with their plight. I can express anger with the authorities for their failings to investigate properly. I too can be sucked into the maelstrom of accusations and lack of surprise as to who is next.

All this assessment of guilt or innocence, allegation and denial comes on the 800th anniversary of one of the most important documents in English law if not world law. The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymeade in Berkshire by King John on 15th June AD1215. This date is O.S. For old style as thanks to changes in the Gregorian Calendar the date is 13 days different – Britain only adopted the calendar in 1752 – I do not want to start about numbers and relative dates again! I have to ask when was Christmas Day, Winter Solstice, New Years Day? Even the year was only calculated in the 6th century as we now calculate AD. The method of its calculation is disputed.

The document contains some 63 clauses, many of which confirm the feudal nature of society and demonstrate that King John was in serious trouble with his barons. Two clauses though are held up as the foundation of the UK’s legal system. (I’ll include Scotland in the UK definition although King John was not King of Scotland. Sorry Scots but you voted to stay in.)

39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed – nor will we go upon or send upon him – save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.

Both these clause apply to the current situation. The first is taken to ensure the right of a fair jury trial. The second for the right to justice for all. This is reflected in subsequent legislation including the European Convention on Human Rights and the workings of the International Criminal Court. Unfortunately, in both the current UK and USA we have secret courts in action where this process is denied. In the second the alleged victims have been denied justice for many years.

To be very cynical, the Magna Carta was not about the rights of the common man. It was about the rights of the privileged few, the monarchy and the aristocracy in the form of the co-signatories King John and the Barons (full list here) Unlike many other nations, Britain does not have a formal written single constitutional document where these rights are listed. Judging from abroad, even where such a document exists (e.g. the USA) most legislation is designed to work around protections provided for the common man (or woman) and create years of legal dispute. For example the holding without trial of possible enemy combatants in illegal prisons. These prisons deliberately set up outside normal jurisdictions in third-party countries. Then there is the complicit activity of various other nations in supporting these actions.

Unfortunately, in the sexual abuse cases, Lawrence Inquiries, Hillsborough Inquiry and ongoing counter-terrorism and security service activity, it is apparent that the Magna Cart has failed. The people we have placed in power (the few who bother to vote that is) have decided that Clause 39 does not apply and Clause 40 should be delayed as long as possible.

The problem for our society in the 800th anniversary year is that if victims wish to deny clause 39 for the alleged perpetrators (broadcasting in the media creates the harm) then they should not be surprised that clause 40 is not implemented. Mud sticks, not all allegations are true.Clauses 39 and 40 are supposed to ensure this does not happen.

We do have a legal system; however, flawed, it is beholden on all of us to uphold both clauses. That means insisting on the rights of victims and the accused; however unpalatable that might be; however heinous the alleged crimes. What is not acceptable is a failure to investigate.

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