Robert Stewart

Might is always right

John Laughland on a new book on political trials

Since the first political trial in modern history — that of Charles I in 1649 — not a single one has ended in the aquittal of the accused. That tells us everything. In no other category of trial would a perfect record for the prosecution be conceivable. In this important, timely, and cogently argued book John Laughland lays bare the truth that political trials, by which he means trials of heads of state or government ministers for acts of state, not for personal trangressions of the law, have never been properly constituted nor properly conducted judicial proceedings. They are staged events, intended as theatre, whose purpose is to legitimise the new regime, or ‘new world order’, brought about by the fall of the old. They mete out ‘victor’s justice’ by special courts or tribunals whose members, both judge and jury, understand (and are picked because they understand) that the outcome has already been decided. When the Vichy government of France put on trial six representatives of the previous government for being defeated by Germany in 1940, the minister of justice, Raphael Alibert, put the point with unashamed baldness:

For a long time we have been denouncing the defects of the Republic. If it were well done, a grand trial would establish the proof of it. Such a trial would be the touchstone of the new regime and of the new order.

It is an easy matter for Laughland to show how defective in law all political trials have been. ‘Due process’ has systematically been thrown out the window by the creation of special courts, in violation of the precept that defendants should be tried by ordinary courts, by the retroactive prosecution for ‘crimes’ not in existence when the alleged criminal behaviour took place, by the resort to in camera sessions, by the witholding of documents from the defence, by the blurring of roles between judge and jury.

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