Birmingham 6: Nightmare Ends

Ciaran Mulholland, Militant, 23rd March 1991

"I don't believe they are intelligent or honest enough to spell the word 'justice', let alone dispense it. They're rotten!"

Attacking the British establishment and judiciary, Paddy Hill's statement outside the Old Bailey, free after a 16 year nightmare, reflects his justifiable anger. It also identifies the reality of the system which kept the Birmingham 6 in prison when it was clear they were innocent men.

The release of the Birmingham 6 ends a 16-year nightmare for the men and their families. All over Ireland, Britain and the world, ordinary people were overjoyed to see them receive justice at last.

For many other innocent victims however the nightmare goes on. The ruling class have been forced to back down in a number of important cases but their system of class 'justice' will continue.

Sending the innocent to jail did not begin or end in the early 1970s but continues to the present day. The Danny McNamee case and the UDR 4 case are two recent examples of so-called 'miscarriages' of justice.

As the Birmingham 6 stated outside the Old Bailey, "the police and the judges may sometimes make mistakes, but more often they jail the innocent knowingly and coldly". One lawyer who campaigns for prisoners' estimates that at least 50 people were jailed for crimes they did not commit in the early 1970s.

The Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4 were only released when long campaigns and the collapse of the prosecution cases left the courts with no other way out. Guiseppe Conlon was allowed to die in prison. Judith Ward has been in prison for even longer than the Birmingham 6.

The courts also display naked class bias and racism when dealing with cases not connected with Ireland. The Tottenham 3 were jailed for killing a policeman during the Broadwater Farm riot in 1985 and are widely recognised to be innocent. They were convicted on the basis of 'confessions' alone. It is clear that time and time again the police have picked up somebody - anybody - and sent them down. During the 1984/5 miners strike, the courts and the police forgot about chasing 'ordinary criminals' and brought the huge weight of their resources to play against the miners. Hundreds of miners were jailed and the National Union of Mineworkers had its assets seized. Over the last two years the courts have tried to seize the few belongings of the poor, to enforce the Tory Poll Tax. Mass non-payment has defeated this hated tax but not before the courts even with to the lengths of jailing non-payers.

The courts and the police are not 'independent', are never 'fair' and have little interest in dispensing 'justice'. Like the rest of the apparatus of the capitalist state they exist to protect the interests of the ruling class.

In Britain, 60% of judges went to private schools and 70% to Cambridge of Oxford universities. There are few female judges and only one black judge. The judiciary is overwhelmingly male, white and upper class.

If you stand in the dock and are Irish, black or working class the odds are stacked against you from the start. The judges have no understanding of the lives and the backgrounds of those who stand before them. The Royal Commission set up in the aftermath of the Birmingham 6 will meet, deliberate, but will ultimately change nothing. If Lord Lane is sacked or forced to resign he will be replaced y someone from the same class and with all the same biases. The release of the Birmingham 6 cannot 'restore faith' in the courts as Charlie Haughey and others have suggested.

The release of the Guildford 4 and the Birmingham 6 were huge victories in the fight for justice. The labour movement must fight for the release of all those who continue to languish in prison. There must be thorough and independent labour movement enquiries into all the cases where innocent people have been jailed. Those who are responsible up to the highest level must be brought to book.

Ultimately, the best way to repay those who have lost so much of their lives in prison is to end the rotten system which put them away. There will never be justice for ordinary people under the capitalist system. Only under a democratic socialist society will the whole process of the 'law' become fair and independent of class interests.

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