Harvey Wienstein meets the court of public opinion.

The news that Harvey Weinstein has been granted an appeal of his 2020 conviction of rape and other sexual assaults should gladden the heart of anyone who believes in justice. It probably won’t but it should. The decision to grant his appeal isn’t an opportunity for him to protest his innocence, but more one that is based on his defence teams claim that he didn’t get a fair trial. The New York Sate of Appeals clearly decided that enough evidence was presented to them to warrant closer scrutiny of their assertion that he didn’t get a fair trial. Thats it.

The right to a far trial, together with a presumption of innocence, is rather like free speech. It either applies to everyone, regardless of what they are alleged to have done, or it applies to no-one. Its that simple. And the right to a fair trial should be a cornerstone of the judicial system of a state country that isn’t shy about admonishing other countries for their somewhat flexible interpretation of those principles.

But, as the song said ‘Times they are a changing’, and the times are indeed troubling. Now, one has to be merely alleged to have done something and if enough people believe it to be true, or if enough of the right people can whip up a social media outcry that makes others believe the allegation true, then that presumption of innocence is worthless as the hot air of those who proclaim guilt. Allegations are just that, allegations. Some have more credibility than others certainly but they are not in and of themselves evidence of anything. Does anyone remember Carl Beech?

It’s always baffled me when a judge instructs a jury to put out of their mind everything they seen or heard about the trial they are to give a verdict on, not to discuss the evidence with anyone and to ignore any coverage of it. To me that is as likely to happen as when a judge instructs a jury to disregard something a witness has just said, or when witnesses swear to tell the truth. What is truth, when everyone is now entitled to claim their own version of it.

My point is that a jury is aware that some trials are more controversial than others. How could they not be? They are members of the same society and subject to the same prevailing cultural orthodoxies that hold sway in the society in which the trial is taking place. Likewise, they will be aware of the impact both on them and wider society of their verdict If the trial is controversial enough and inflames passions sufficiently, that there’ll be protesters angrily demanding this or that, claiming that the verdict proves this or that. Certainly in America and therefore, soon enough, here.

So it’s foolish in the extreme to imagine that jurors are unaware of this, that it plays no part in their determination of innocence or guilt. That they can ignore the sounds of an angry mobs outside the court building and the police needed to separate them? Remain blissfully unaware of what people are saying on social media and which conventional media then reports on? I know I couldn’t.

I’m not saying that I think Harvey Weinstein is innocent. I don’t know if he he is or isn’t, and more importantly, neither does anyone else. Of greater importance is not only that he gets a fair trial, but that he’s seen to get one. He, like every other American is entitled to a fair trial. Whether he’ll get one second time around is another matter.