The lawyers for the Colston 4 claimed they were “on the right side of history. Jurors were invited to join them there”, according to David Olusoga (The Guardian, “This Verdict Puts Bristol on the Right Side of History at Last” 07/01/22). This plea goes to the heart of the problem, as does the approval of it voiced by respected establishment liberals such as Professor Olusoga.
The jury’s job is to decide if the law had been broken. If it has, it is the judge’s job to decide an appropriate sentence. Yet the defendants’ lawyers were urging the jury to exploit a historic flaw in an already deeply flawed system, to strike a blow for a different, if related, cause.
This is exactly the argument used by O.J. Simpson’s lawyers. In 1994, they persuaded a jury that because Black people in LA had been systematically misused by its police force, They would, somehow, be redressing the balance to allow O.J, one of America’s rich and privileged, to murder his ex-wife and a passing waiter, and to walk away from the courthouse entirely unpunished.
What’s more, by talking of being “on the right side of history”, the Colston Four’s lawyers urged their jury to consider not truth and justice, but merely how they would look. They promoted the idea that our society was irreconcilably divided and in conflict and that, rather than healing divisions, it was their job as good citizens to take sides so they could help to bludgeon their enemies, the forces of evil, into submission. This was such a high profile case that the jury would inevitably be feeling self-conscious and vulnerable, aware that their decision would be momentous and would be scrutinised and criticised by a whole nation, even internationally. In this highly charged and fraught atmosphere these arguments by the defence were insidious and corrupting.