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The Rule of Law… or Status?

Posted on 14th September 2009. No Comment

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“Be you ever so high that the law is above you.” -

mugshots_400This famous quote from the late judge Lord Denning, a pioneer in the legal world who consistently challenged the status quo to secure ‘justice’ for all, is a well established doctrine stating how no one is immune to the laws of the land. Yet recent cases suggest that there is one group to whom that rule does not apply. That of the ‘celebrity’.

As I watched the breaking news of a conclusion in the fairly recent Steven Gerrard case of alleged affray, deep down a part of me actually wanted a guilty verdict. It was certainly a deep and dark place, as being a Scouser and Liverpool fan I would be engaging in a monumental act of self sabotage . If Gerrard had to serve a custodial sentence (god forbid) the Liverpool team’s title hopes for the coming season would have gone up in smoke at the fall of the judge’s hammer. Yet in a way I was torn to what outcome would be most satisfying. The sight of a true celebrity being carted off to the cells would have given me some hope that justice is not an ideological fantasy, and that the law is actually applicable to all citizens, regardless of their bank account. Ultimately his alcohol fuelled punches were thrown in ‘self defence’, despite his friends initiating the attack and Gerrard himself performing to a level more akin to a ‘professional boxer than footballer.’ The jury were themselves vetted on their footballing loyalties prior to being sworn in, but regardless of what team they followed I couldn’t help the feeling that Gerrard’s high profile reputation would be his best defence.

“..another example of celebrities receiving suspiciously generous treatment..”

On the same day the ever delightful Amy Winehouse was found not guiltywinehouse of assault by a London magistrates court. She was alleged to have punched a dancer in the eye at a charity ball after being asked to have a photograph taken with her. Again, no opinion is offered on whether the verdict was right or wrong, I am not privy to all the facts of the case. I would however suggest that this is another example of celebrities receiving suspiciously generous treatment from our courts. After hearing all the evidence the presiding judge was quoted as saying ‘I cannot be sure that this was not an accident.’ In criminal trials we must obviously retain the burden of proof as being ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ but in the case of Winehouse it beggars belief that this was not satisfied. The drugs, the drinking and the generally aggressive, demented appearance she portrays would convince most people that she is certainly capable of such an act.

Anyone remember the Michael Jackson case? Again not guilty. Yet cast your minds back even further to 1994, when Jackson secretly agreed to pay more than $18 million dollars as an out of court settlement to make damaging potential child molestation claims go away. That is around £10 million pounds, good value in celebrity money. George Michael has also provided his fair share of column inches throughout the years. His driving and drug related offences have been both persistent and fairly blatant, but it is interesting that the publicly gay celebrity is hung out to dry by the papers whilst his peers are shown considerably more lenience. Nevertheless, the singer has frequently been ‘released with a caution’, and on the cases that have gone to court he has in fact pleaded guilty. A refreshingly honest stance?

“Some of the jurors have since admitted they thought he was probably guilty..”

simpson_ojYet perhaps the ultimate example of a celebrity escaping the clutches of the law occurred across the Atlantic, in the infamous OJ Simpson case. Whilst obtaining much support amongst the African American population, the ‘not guilty’ verdict is frequently cited as one of the biggest miscarriages of criminal justice in American history. The fact that every minute of the ten month trial was televised to the masses leads one to question whether the intense exposure and ‘celebrity factor’, lead to Simpson walking away from a fairly solid, if slightly bungled, prosecution case. Some of the jurors have since admitted they thought he was probably guilty, but it was the publishing of “IF I did it” – a supposedly fictional firsthand account of the murders by OJ himself – that was a slap in the face of justice. OJ Simpson now goes by the name of inmate #1027820 at Nevada state prison, but his stay there is for unrelated crimes of robbery and kidnapping committed in 2007. Although he was found liable for ‘wrongful death’ in a civil case brought against him by the victims’ family, the American football ‘star’ was never found criminally responsible for the 1995 murders.

“…when it comes to the law, celebrities have a dangerously unfair advantage..”

Every summer there is always a guarantee of footballer rape claims, normally involving some kind of drunken sex orgy, which delight newspaper editors everywhere. Yet there are other countless other examples that we never hear about because they are low level, driving offences and such like. Alas, the same pattern is played out. Celebrity is accused of a crime, celebrity hires eye wateringly expensive legal team, celebrity is miraculously found not guilty.

One must pay testament to the calibre of lawyers acting for the defence, who are able to find the tiniest technical gaps in the law, or argue a case in such a way that what appeared black and white suddenly resembles a more uncertain shade of grey. Yet, when it comes to the law, celebrities have a dangerously unfair advantage. Their obscene wealth, status and adoring fans too often combine to form a cloak of immunity. I will not hold my breath for the next time one of these protected few is actually held to account for their actions.

Olivia Amos

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