Blog: Verdict caused untold pain, but it was not unjust
Within minutes of the verdict, the assault on reason began. On Twitter, an impromptu vendetta was launched (see online reaction to Michaela McAreavey verdict) under the hashtag #boycottmauritius. Various insults and obscenities accompanied demands that we righteous Irish victims should retaliate economically against the Mauritian people.
The message was clear. On the one hand, Mauritius, with a bunch of muppet cops and a ramshackle judicial system -- on the other hand, Ireland, a civilised country where we take impeccable justice for granted. There's an element of self-congratulation. We're not them -- we're civilised, with a judicial system that works.
It is not, of course, that simple. The murder of a young person is always crushing. The unlived life and the suppression of all its potential. The grief of the parents and siblings. And some murders stand out. Michaela McAreavey was murdered days after Christmas, on her honeymoon, far from home, yards from her husband, in the midst of joyous relaxation, while looking forward to a useful, productive life.
The fact that her father is so well known and respected, the fact that she took a public part in his GAA activities, enhanced our empathy. As did the poignant details -- such as the house she never got to move into. Through all that followed, her family, her bereft husband, behaved flawlessly -- their grief kept private, their dignity unwavering.
Convicting a murderer can't ease the pain of all that loss, not for a second. But a conviction plays another role. Murder is a severe disruption of civilised life, the ultimate insult. When a family is so devastated, a conviction is a sign that some kind of order is being restored to the world. A small right is being done, in the face of a gigantic wrong.
When an attempted conviction fails, it says that the disruption will not receive even this small redress. Even this small right will be withheld, the gigantic wrong left unanswered. Pain piled upon pain. Anything the family says about this, any complaint, any anger, is an understandable consequence of an outrageous crime.
The rest of us owe a debt to reason. We empathise, we sympathise -- we glimpse their pain but we have no right to appropriate their pain, as though we too are victims. In public events of which mourning is a part, these days there's often a kind of recreational grieving, by mere observers. And it sometimes emerges in demands for retribution, for boycotts, for insults.
When the Twitter lynch mob let loose, more sober users of the medium responded fairly quickly. They asked if the French would be justified in launching a boycott of Ireland because of the garda handling of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder.
It should be possible to regret the terrible murder, to wish the family peace, to offer them community support -- without using the tragedy as an excuse to gratuitously heap abuse on others and claim some kind of superiority for ourselves.
Mauritius won its independence from the British little more than 40 years ago. In terms of development, they're perhaps where we were in the Seventies. It appears that the investigation was hugely flawed, the interrogation suspect. We, far away, even if we read all the reports, cannot know what the truth is. It could be that a confession was extracted by beating -- as many confessions were extracted here in the Seventies and later. When there is pressure on the police to get results, the victim's rights are forgotten.
The police owe the victim a fair investigation and a proper conviction of the guilty party. When the case is conducted in such a way as to leave doubt about whether a confession was fairly obtained, in circumstances where the innocent crack as easily as the guilty, that duty is left undone. A result is not justice.
Many have equated justice with a conviction -- therefore, they claim, there was no justice in Mauritius law. But this doesn't look like a jury acting against the evidence -- this looks like a jury that didn't see a compelling case. In such circumstances, an unsafe conviction would compound the injustice. And that, in every such case, is a further insult to the victim.
The conduct of the case seemed -- from here -- to have gross touches, needlessly causing further pain to the family. When lawyers are fighting for their client's liberty sometimes decency takes a back seat.
We expect the law to put the world to rights. But it's just the law, an accumulation of rules enforced under pressure by a flawed humanity, and sometimes the outcome only adds to the pain.