Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Attacker of Stephen Timms guilty of attempted murder

At the Old Bailey, Roshonara Choudhry (age 21) refused to enter a plea.  See The Guardian 2nd November and The Telegraph 2nd November.  In such circumstances the procedure is that a not guilty plea is entered and the prosecution version of the case is heard.  It appears that she also refused to enter any defence.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jury found her guilty of the attempted murder of Stephen Timms and two counts of poessession of an offensive weapon.  She is to be sentenced via a video link on Wednesday 3rd November.

The issue of refusal to enter a plea has an interesting history.  Prior to 1772 it was possible for a person to be pressed with weights until they either entered a plea or died under the weight piled upon them.  One of the most famous cases where this procedure, known as Peine Forte et Dure, was used was that of St. Margaret Clitherow who, in March 1586 at York, was pressed under a weight of 320 kgs.  She refused to enter a plea to a charge of harbouring a Catholic priest.  She died.  From 1772, this barbaric treatment was ended by a statute and a guilty plea was entered instead.  From 1827, by further legislation, a not guilty plea came to be entered.

The idea of not entering a plea and/or refusing to recognise the court is a tactic occasionally adopted by some defendants who often wish to make a form of political statement.  (Margaret Clitherow sacrificed her own life to spare her children almost certain torture and to save their inheritance which they would have lost had she been tried and found guilty).  Other notable cases of refusal to plead include that of Michael Murray (1936-1999) who was tried as part of the same trial which convicted the Birmingham Six (held at Lancaster Castle in 1975) and the trial of Radovan Karadžić before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Addendum 3rd November:  Choudhry was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years imprisonment.   See Telegraph.  Her victim, Stephen Timms, called for an overhaul of websites hosting terror videos - see also Telegraph.

Addendum 6th November:   The remarks of the judge when sentencing Choudhry have "raised some eyebrows."  See The Guardian 5th November 2010.  

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