“It’s not very British to condemn Shamima Begum without a trial”

We shouldn't mete out justice from behind our phones, desktops and tablets, says James Picture: Get

We shouldn't mete out justice from behind our phones, desktops and tablets, says James Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our columnist says we must follow the law and not make judgements over someone’s guilt based on social media.

On June 7 1594 the only royal doctor in the history of England was executed.

Dr Roderigo Lopez was hung, then drawn and quartered in front of crowds of Londoners after being convicted of High Treason. It was an horrific and violent death.

The road to the public scaffold started in January of the same year when the Queen’s favourite the young and hot headed Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, accused Lopez of plotting against the Queen.

Evidence was found, words planted in important ears, antisemitism was stoked up (Lopez was Jewish) letters - which didn’t help Lopez’s case – were looked at through the unforgiving lens of suspicion.

The scene was set through gossip, innuendo, insinuation and suggestion.

There is a theory that Essex manipulated the whole thing because Lopez had been indiscreet about the earl’s venereal disease.

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Whatever the truth, Elizabeth, a wise Queen, was reluctant to execute her respected doctor, delaying signing the death warrant for three months. In the end, of course, she was left with little choice. Though, tellingly, after the execution Lopez’s family were allowed to keep their wealth and the doctor’s estate.

It is probably the case that Lopez was innocent of the crime he was executed for. These things happen, and 500 or so years ago England was a different place.

Today it’s hard to have sympathy for ISIS refugee Shamima Begum isn’t it? She was 15 when she left the UK to join up with the ISIS terrorists, she knew what she was doing, she knew the consequences, and she was well over the age of criminal liability.

Now asking for sympathy, now a mother, she wants to come home to the country that she left in order to join its enemies.

No wonder, you might say, as things haven’t turned out as she hoped have they? And now she wants to come home to free healthcare, child allowance, and to benefit from all that British nationality has to offer. She talks of being a victim, but then almost everyone does these days, or so it seems.

Apparently a refugee camp is nowhere to bring up a child, she says. She’s even asked for “some British values” which suggests she knows they are different, at least, from those of ISIS. It’s hard to tell if she’s sorry or not, contrite or unrepentant, victim or criminal – maybe she’s a bit of both.

I think we can agree that British values – whatever they are and however they are described – are not those of ISIS. Our society is one that is based on the Rule of Law, and it is the Rule of Law on which civilisation is based.

ISIS is a lawless, violent, chaotic and anarchic state. Its actions have horrified the world, its ideology abhorrent to all we stand for. Shamima, who is still British even though she may have turned her back on Britain, may be beginning to learn the error of her mistakes, or she may not, but whatever the rights and wrongs of this situation, the opportunity for forgiveness ought to be part of our national psyche.

Mercy and forgiveness are surely British values, and if someone asks for them then we must take that request seriously. To administer mercy is to separate ourselves from the likes of the Islamic Caliphate. Indeed we offer many criminals a second chance from the mistakes of their youth. We all make mistakes, we all get it wrong, and we were all young once. We also usually pay for our crimes and I am not saying that Shamima ought not face the full force of the law.

If she has committed a crime then she ought to face trial. If she is found guilty then she must face the full force of the law.

I’m not totally convinced by the suggestion that we somehow risk the lives of others to spring her from the refugee camp and bring her home, but I am certain that if she can get to some sort of consular assistance then she has a right to it, and a right not to be made stateless – that’s the law. Even if, to some, it doesn’t seem right.

But perhaps we should bear in mind that if we simply condemn by Twitter and media and hearsay, if we go on reports of what she has said and what others are saying she has said, if we exercise our judgement outside the confines of a court of law, if we condemn with no trial, if we convict on gossip and judge on chatter, then, I’m afraid, we are no different to ISIS itself, and we’ve made no progress at all over the last 500 years.