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Colston Four: The justice system at its best

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The acquittal of the Colston Four shows the justice system at its best – protecting citizens from the oppressive use of the law.

It’s almost impossible to find a genuinely informative take on the acquittal of the Colston Four, so mired is the case in the politics of culture war. I’m not convinced that my own perspective is immune from my preference against venerating those who commit crimes against humanity (and the belief that I’m perfectly capable of learning about history, in the absence of statues, by reading a book). Similarly, the chorus of ministers and commentators declaiming the verdict as an “assault on the rule of law” were noticeably silent in the face of the government’s threats to break international law over the EU trade agreement or its unlawful prorogation of parliament. Many, indeed, voted for legislation to block challenges to unlawful government acts, allow British soldiers to commit war crimes unpunished, and for ministers to authorise state agents to commit crimes with impunity. All, arguably, far more substantial “assaults” on the rule of law than pulling down a statue.

Given the heightened emotions, it seems sensible to start with something a little drier: like the law. Contrary to popular myth, “criminal damage” (with which the Colston Four were charged) doesn’t just mean “breaking something”. It means damaging property “without lawful excuse”. A “lawful excuse” can be an honest belief that those who could consent to the damage would do so. The Colston Four gave evidence that they believed the people of Bristol owned the statue and would consent to its toppling. Similarly, you are entitled to damage property to prevent or end a crime. The Colston Four argued that the statue was, itself, a crime under the Public Order Act (which prohibits any “visible representation” which is threatening of abusive). The law thus makes clear provision for courts to acquit defendants in this sort of situation.

The statue of Colston arguably never had the support of the people of Bristol. Despite its inscription “erected by the citizens of Bristol”, it was, in fact, funded by one man (publisher James Arrowsmith). Attempts to raise money from Bristol’s citizens failed. It has been criticised by Bristolians since at least the 1920s. Attempts to add information about Colston’s involvement in the slave trade (and refusal to allow his charities to help people who disagreed with his politics) failed after members of the “Society of Merchant Venturers” (which was, itself, involved in the slave trade) interfered to “sanitise” the information. A monument to the victims of the slave trade, erected next to the statue, was removed in 2018. It’s not difficult to understand how Bristolians would see a statue celebrating a man who helped murder thousands as abusive, particularly towards those from the global majority. The continuing presence of the statue, in a central location where the descendants of Colston’s victims may have to pass it every day, seems difficult to distinguish from leaving up racist graffiti or maintaining a statue of Oswald Mosely in a Jewish neighbourhood.

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It’s certainly true, however, that this was no ordinary trial. It was overtly political. With limited resources it is impossible to prosecute every potential crime. Prosecutors must determine that they have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, and that prosecuting is in the public interest. In this case, the city of Bristol chose not to restore the statue. Rather, it was placed in a museum as part of an exhibit on both Colston and the protest movement. Bristolians are in the process of removing various other celebrations of slavers. Local police decided not to protect the statue before it was toppled. It’s difficult to understand the public interest in prosecuting for actions that appear so in line with the community’s priorities.

The prosecution was, however, squarely in line with the government’s “war on woke” agenda. Indeed, the Home Secretary herself was directly involved and pressurised (supposedly independent) law enforcement to act. Prosecution is an awesome power and must not be misused. When I represented people wrongly imprisoned in ... Office “Horizon” scandal, the Court of Appeal overturned their convictions on the basis that, not only were they innocent, but that prosecutors had misused their power. It’s difficult to see how using the power to advance the party of government’s political agenda is any more justifiable.

The rule of law means the law must apply to everyone. But it also means that the law must be administered justly. Our justice system contains a safety valve to ensure that the government cannot use its prosecution power oppressively: the jury. Juries have, for centuries, been the bane of governments which seek to use prosecutions for political ends. The trial of the Colston Four joins a long tradition going back to (possibly beyond) the “treason trials” of the 1790s, in which juries frustrated government attempts to imprison supporters of democratic reform. The jury in the Colston trial was asked to decide whether the Colston Four had an honest belief that the people of Bristol would support the removal of the statue and whether the statue itself represented a crime. We, as a society, have long left that sort of decision to juries. It’s right that we continue to do so.

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No 10 has still not received Sue Gray report, says minister

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A minister has said that Downing Street has likely still not received Sue Gray’s report.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News that he had “spoke[n] to someone in Downing Street about half an hour ago and they certainly didn’t indicate it had been received – I don’t know a lot more than you do but I’ve certainly got no information as of right now that it’s been received.”

The report into alleged lockdown violations by government officials has been delayed following confirmation of a criminal investigation into the matter.

Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office has been investigating the matter after the No 10’s permanent secretary Simon Case stepped aside after apologising for attending one of the reported gatherings.

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Chris Philp was also quizzed over whether he still agrees with remarks he recently expressed when asked if he saw the prime minister as “a model of moral integrity” during BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? Programme earlier this month.

“Yes I do,” he said: “He is someone who is working night and day and has been since he became Prime Minister two and a half years ago – he’s delivered Brexit, which obviously he thought was difficult or impossible; he delivered a landslide General Election victory; we’ve since been hit by Covid and he and his team having been working night and day to get us through this pandemic, as a result of which we’ve had a European-leading booster programme.

He argued that “None of that is an accident” claiming that: “it’s come as the result of an enormous amount of hard work that’s been led by the Prime Minister. I think the results speak louder than words.”

Mr Philp also told Sky News that the National Insurance hike “is going ahead,” following reports

National Insurance contributions are set to rise from 13.8% to 15.05% from 1 April to fund a new health and social care levy. This comes alongside forecasts that the energy price cap will be permitted to rise by a minimum of £400, with the increased prices coming into force from April.

“It was approved by the whole cabinet, it was passed by Parliament with a significant majority and the money is needed to fund the NHS which is something that is a national priority,” he went on.

“It’s £36 billion over three years to fund the NHS and social care – we need to put that number in to make sure the NHS has the money it needs to recover after the pandemic, and this is a proportionate way of finding that money.”

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Nigerians are now seeing the positive outcome of my government’s policies, says Buhari

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President Muhammadu buhari 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday said the economic policies of his government are achieving good result.

The president said this at the commissioning ceremony of BUA Cement’s new three million metric tonnes per annum cement line in Sokoto.

According to Buhari, “In the past two weeks, I was in Ogun and Kaduna states where I commissioned projects. Those ones, with this project undertaken by BUA Cement, show that our policies are working.”

The president then called on private sector operators to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the policies to grow their businesses and also create employment opportunities. Buhari said the responsibility of growing the economy rested squarely on the shoulders of both the public and private sectors.

He therefore called for the collaboration of both for the nation’s economic development. While noting that each of the states in the country is endowed with resources that could be converted to wealth, Buhari said his government was ready to introduce policies that would facilitate the exploitation of the nation’s abundant natural resources.

The president called on building material manufacturers to do all in their power to bring down the prices of the items.

Earlier in his address, Chairman of BUA Group of Companies, Alhaji Abdul Samad Rabiu, said the company was resolute to make cement available and affordable to Nigerians irrespective of their location.

He said this was the rationale behind the construction of four new cement lines in the last five years.

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Electing Tinubu as president for Nigeria’s good, says Sanwo-Olu

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Sanwo Olu and Tinubu

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu says All Progressives national leader Bola Tinubu, is the most qualified Nigerian to be president in 2023.

The governor said Mr Tinubu’s qualification rested on his demonstrated capacity in deploying a mix of genius and statecraft to nurture a city on the brink of a flourishing economy.

”Tinubu’s practicable ideas in governance makes him the most qualified successor and saleable choice for the job. Our country is the most populous black nation in the world and the responsibility that comes with that is enormous. No doubt that the destiny of the entire black race is tied to the greatness of Nigeria,” stated Mr Sanwo-Olu during the formal inauguration of the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (ABAT) movement’s working committee in Ikeja.

“If our country must be great, we have the responsibility to choose the leadership that will bring about true transformation across every facet of our national life,” the Lagos governor added. “Who is that rallying figure that should lead us in this journey? The answer is deeply connected to our mission and purpose here today. That person must be a detribalised Nigerian and a bridge-builder, who has been tested and trusted.”

He further stressed that the person must be a thinker, who must sustain the legacy “our current president is leaving behind.”

“That person is the reason we are inaugurating this movement for the actualisation of his presidential ambition,” explained Mr Sanwo-Olu. “That person is our great leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”

The ABAT movement was conceived and set up by members of the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) in Lagos to actualise Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition.

The Lagos governor stated that the indisputable capability of Tinubu to effectively manage human and material resources for visible progress stood him out as the most qualified Nigerian to be president in 2023.

He added that the progress in Lagos remained a visible experiment initiated by the APC leader. Mr Sanwo-Olu said Nigeria had continued to shoulder the burden of the black race, and the country’s transformation into a stable economy would be a source of pride to the black man.

According to Mr Sanwo-Olu, in 2023, the country needs a capable leader with progressive ideas to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari and build on the progress recorded by the current administration.

Mr Sanwo-Olu also noted that Mr Tinubu’s name was synonymous with growth and development and possessed a Midas touch to positively turn around the resources of the country for the general good.

He said the event was to raise foot soldiers, team leaders and cheerleaders, who would pursue the movement’s objectives and cascade down its messages to every voter at the ward level, with commitment and passion.

The governor charged all selected for leadership roles in the movement to reflect Tinubu’s political ideals of openness and tolerance in their engagement and mobilisation.

APC stalwart James Odumbaku said the forthcoming general elections presented another opportunity for Nigerians to make the right choice, to keep the country on the path of development.

GAC leader Tajudeen Olusi described Mr Tinubu as “a genius” in statecraft, adding that the APC leader was a saleable article in the political market.

”We have to be prepared and determined because the contest would be a battle of might and strength,” Mr Olusi said.

(NAN)

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