Over the last fortnight there has been two trials in London for Fitwatching activities, both for obstructing police cameras. The three defendants in the first trial were lucky enough to have lawyers representing them for free. The two defendants in the second trail were forced by lack of legal aid to defend themselves. The difference between the two trials could not have been more stark, nor give a clearer picture of the complete lack of justice in our criminal justice system.
There are solid legal arguments as to why obstructing police cameras is not unlawful. Some of these are quite complex, others relatively simple. The police have no more power than you or I to take photographs of people in the street. If I want to take a photograph and someone gets in the way, well, it’s just tough. Same applies to the police. No-one has ever given them the authority to use force or arrest in order to get the pictures they want.
There are other reasons too why FIT activities are less than completely lawful; the harassment of individuals who have committed no crimes, the intimidation of those who want to be involved in political protest, and unlawful data gathering and processing, to name but three!
Legal arguments were raised at both trials. When they were raised by lawyers in the first trial, they were taken seriously. When they were raised by ordinary, non-legally trained defendants in the second trial they were not. The District Judge just didn’t bother his head with them. “I’ve looked at your arguments, but I’m happy the police were obstructed in their duty, because that is the evidence they have given,” he said. In other words, ‘I can’t be bothered with all that legal stuff, I’ll just find you guilty because the nice policeman wants me to’. Fairness and impartiality at its very best.
Of course, none of us will be rocked by the shock headline of injustice in British courts. But at a time when legal aid is being cut back and back, it shows how much harder it is for unrepresented defendants to get anything like a fair hearing.
Fortunately the three defendants on trial at Horseferry Road magistrates court faired better, to the credit largely of a more reasonable District Judge and the two law firms who were prepared to give their services for free. Apart from the serious stuff it was interesting to hear Inspector Spence reveal his carefully contrived ‘plan’ to lure fitwatchers out of the crowd at the stop the war march in order to arrest them with his three units of back-up TSG. And amusing to hear PC Rooney talk of the ‘hundreds’ of protests he has been at where there had been a Fitwatch presence. Clearly we have been more effective than we thought!
This trial went part-heard, and will not now conclude until December. The defendants convicted at the second trial are considering thier appeal. If CO11 are celebrating a victory, I’d say they’re a bit too quick off the mark. There is everything still to play for.