Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Day One - A tough judge and a jury selected.

What a welcome!

The biggest pro-free speech demo yet lined one whole side of the precinct outside Leeds Crown court today. Both Mark and myself, as well as members of our families who were with us, were deeply touched by and grateful for the tremendous show of support. The braying hatred from the outnumbered Socialist 'Workers' Party freak show on the other side of the precinct was virtually drowned out by the chants of "Freedom, Freedom". The sea of flags, and placards from the newly launched Christian Council of
Britain, whose activists joined the BNP-organised event in significant numbers, looked particularly impressive.

Once in the court, both of us had conferences with our legal teams (same solicitor, different barristers), but also quite a lot of sitting around, with us only finally getting into court at a quarter past three.

Reporting restrictions on the discussions before the swearing in of the jury remain in force, though I am pleased to say that the Judge ruled that it would be in order to report his observations on the behaviour of the far left outside court. He noted the presence of "massive demonstrations" outside the court, and indicated his approval of these, saying that it was important that such activities be permitted as a fundamental part of our democracy. But then he went on to make a scathing attack on a UAF leaflet claiming that we are "guilty as charged" which was being handed out to passers by and potential jurors going into court:

"It cannot be said too strongly that if some of those of either group are trying to act in a way in which they can influence this trial, they will not succeed in doing so. In any event it merely is unhelpful to the claim 'guilty as charged' - they are seeking to undermine acts which can be seen as leading to an attempt to undermine the British Justice System and I strongly urge them from continuing this practice."

Jury selection

There were then discussions as to possible questions to put to potential jurors. With the matters arising from this settled - at least for the time being - the jury panel of 20 filed into court at 4.12 pm.

The following question was then put to the potential jurors: "This is a case in which allegations are made of the use of threatening and abusive words and behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred or whereby racial hatred is likely to be stirred up. You will be asked to watch a series of speeches by the defendants and will be asked to deal with criticisms in these speeches of the Islamic religion, although this is not the crime with which the defendants are charged, and indeed it is not a crime under English law. Both defendants are members of the British National Party. Would you please consider carefully your views whatever they may be - on issues of race, religion or membership of the British National Party which may prevent you from making a decision in a fair and unbiased way. If you feel it is not possible to do would you please indicate."

The Judge then continued with a warning aimed at the leftist leaflets: "Outside the Court there were demonstrations in the street and they relate to this case. In the course of those demonstrations leaflets have been handed out by persons outside. It may be that you have received some of those documents and I ask you to destroy them and secondly not take any document from any person who is protesting outside this Court."

12 jurors were then chosen from shuffled name cards. The result - seven men, one of them a young Muslim, and five women. On them, and on our excellent legal team, our 'fate' now rests. With the clock ticking towards 5pm and the judge having to give a verdict in another case, the court was adjourned.

So we're back in the morning, to hear the first part of the prosecution case. News on that tomorrow evening. Til then, many thanks to all those who came to the demonstration in Leeds today, and to our friends overseas, especially the organisers and activists of the demonstrations in the USA and Canada.