Nobody should deny that Rosie Cooper has faced an ordeal. A plot to kill her, in order to send a message to Westminster, was uncovered and her would-be attacker – Jack Renshaw – has been incarcerated after he admitted plotting to kill Cooper and an investigating police officer. But it has been reported that he will not face a second retrial for membership of a banned, neo-Nazi group National Action.
The Guardian report:
Renshaw, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, had admitted making preparations to kill Cooper, his local MP, in 2017 and making a threat to kill Victoria Henderson, a police officer who was investigating him. However, he denied membership of the banned extreme rightwing group National Action, and the jury could not reach a verdict on the charge for a second time. Renshaw is still to be sentenced.The Guardian
Cooper has since taken the opportunity to ask for the introduction of Diplock trials in cases of terrorism.
This is something of a worrying development. I have a great deal of sympathy with Cooper. I fully understand why she would feel the way she does. But it is hugely problematic to do away with trial without jury, even in such serious cases as those involving terrorism.
The Diplock trial process was first introduced to Northern Ireland during the Troubles. They were instigated in response to the policy of internment in the region. It was deemed preferable to implement trial before a single judge rather than internment without trial. However, the reasoning for such as move was two-fold: (1) danger of perverse acquittals; (2) the threatening of jurors. These were a particular concern in Northern Ireland as close-knit communities could acquit the guilty should they be sympathetic to their actions and it was easy for jurors, known to those on trial and easily accessible in the local community, to be intimidated. Nonetheless, even under such circumstances, the 1972 Parker Report found ‘no evidence of [intimidation] or of perversity in juries.’
Given the specific circumstances under which the suggestion was originally made, and the subsequent finding that the fears were unfounded, the two concerns at issue in Northern Ireland are really not a concern in modern terror trials. It is, therefore, worrying that the introduction of Diplock trials is being seriously suggested as a matter of course.
I can fully understand Cooper’s desire to achieve a satisfactory conviction and sentence (as she judges it). But it is troubling that she can suggest the use of Diplock courts as a result of her experience. Even in cases of terrorism, fair trials should be undertaken and this includes having an impartial jury weigh the evidence set before them. There have long been calls for the Diplock court rulings to be scrapped on the grounds that they produce unsafe convictions.
Trial by jury is one of the long established rights codified in Magna Carta. To sweep away such provisions should take a great deal more than one MP standing up, albeit following a particularly difficult and traumatic time, and receiving a round of applause in the House of Commons. And, of course, Diplock trials are not going to be introduced merely as a result of that. But it is possible for the Home Secretary to introduce them and this is the point being pressed.
I just cannot help that somebody who has been the subject of a terrorist plot is not best placed to make the necessary dispassionate decision on whether Diplock trials are appropriate. In this case, it is hard to see how the grounds on which they were introduced hold. It is no doubt being considered seriously because MPs recognise just how close to home this is. Rosie Cooper may have been the particular target, but most MPs are conscious it could have been any one of them. Neither the timing of the suggestion, nor the people making it, seem credibly distanced enough to make the decision.
I fear when centuries long established rights are being threatened because of one, albeit highly unpleasant, incident. In the heat of the moment, in the aftermath of what is evidently a terrible ordeal, we are not well placed to make such sweeping judgements. I hope the Home Secretary sympathises, but chooses not to implement the suggestion. The results will be wider reaching than we might care to believe.