Abu Hamza has been found guilty of inciting murder and stirring up race hate and sentenced to seven year in jail. Now I hate to rain on the law and order parade but this verdict gives me serious misgivings. It's not that I don't think that he's guilty as sin, it's that there had been so much press coverage including some of his sermons and speeches prior to his trial that is there not the possibility that the jury were not fair and impartial on the evidence given. It's not just a case of the law being fair but also it being seen to be fair.
On balance, and from I've read of the trial, I think it's probably unlikely that there was going to be any other verdict. But on the other hand, the rhetoric that has been used in the press had certainly put me in a mindset that had I been on the jury my decision would have been made before the charges had been read. This is the heart of my misgivings. How much information should the media give prior to trials, and how prejudicial is media coverage to the ability to have a fair trial? With journalists increasingly taking upon themselves the role of police investigators are we not in danger of having trial by media fueled public opinion?
Given the rioting that happened on Friday it makes me worry what scenes we are going to be seeing in the near future, and what the implications are for relationships within multi-ethnic communities.
Muslims react to Hamza conviction (BBC website).
This report eases my misgivings on the one hand but also emphasises some of the reasons I had them in the first place.