British Government Says “Oops, Our Bad” in Terrorism Case

by Kevin Jon Heller

Well, this is a tad embarrassing for the British government. A prosecution of a Swedish national for providing support to Syrian rebels fell apart when… it became clear the British government had been providing support to the same Syrian rebels:

His lawyers argued that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as he was, and were party to a secret operation providing weapons and non-lethal help to the groups, including the Free Syrian Army.

Bherlin Gildo, 37, who was arrested last October on his way from Copenhagen to Manila, was accused of attending a terrorist training camp and receiving weapons training between 31 August 2012 and 1 March 2013 as well as possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist.

Riel Karmy-Jones, for the crown, told the court on Monday that after reviewing the evidence it was decided there was no longer a reasonable prospect of a prosecution. “Many matters were raised we did not know at the outset,” she told the recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, who lifted all reporting restrictions and entered not guilty verdicts.

In earlier court hearings, Gildo’s defence lawyers argued he was helping the same rebel groups the British government was aiding before the emergence of the extreme Islamist group, Isis. His trial would have been an “affront to justice”, his lawyers said.

Henry Blaxland QC, the defence counsel, said: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.”

I think the only surprising thing about the case is that the British government dismissed the charges. A similar US prosecution would likely have continued, with the government somehow convincing the judge to prevent the defendant from introducing evidence of its hypocrisy.

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post Kevin, with all due respect, little has to do here with hypocrisy, those are rather sovereign discretions of states, to change or shift from one political stand, to another, surly in light of such amazing devastating dynamic .

    What we may have here rather , legally , has to do with appearance or public trust in justice . Many justice systems, provide, acquittance or dismissing of trials or procedure, while, the appearance of justice, is so flawed , that should be aborted , here in Israel for example, I quote from:

    ” Criminal Procedure Law [Consolidated Version], 1982 ”

    Here article 149 ( pay attention to clause 10 ) dictates as follows :

    ” Preliminary pleadings

    149. After the commencement of the trial, the defendant is entitled to make preliminary pleadings, including the following:

    (1) Lack of local jurisdiction;
    (2) Lack of material jurisdiction;
    (3) A defect or invalidating feature in the indictment;
    (4) That the facts described in the indictment do not constitute an offence;
    (5) A previous acquittal or previous conviction regarding the act to which the indictment relates;
    (6) That another criminal trial is pending against the defendant regarding the act to which the indictment relates;
    (7) Immunity;
    (8) Prescription;
    (9) A pardon;
    (10) The filing of an indictment or the conduct of criminal proceedings is in material contradiction to the principles of justice and fair trial.”

    So you see : ” contradiction to the principles of justice and fair trial ” .

    In the US by the way , named ( among others ) the :

    ” Chilling effect ” on jury or reasonable person .


  2. Hypocrisy or `governments prerogative` to change its mind – the upshot is that the failure to agree upon and apply a legal definition of `terrorism` results in confusion and arbitrariness. Despite judge Casesse`s work at the Lebanon Tribunal, States clearly prefer to be able to define for themselves who are and who are not `terrorists.` The mix of the legal with the political leaves the criminal legal community guessing.

  3. The tu quoque defense is revived as a sort of abuse of process, interesting.

  4. It is hypocrisy, pure and simple, for a government to charge an individual for supporting a terrorist group that it is supporting itself.

  5. BUT perhaps the prosecution should have proceeded if there was actual support of “a terrorist group” and there should have been prosecution of the British officials, etc. who did the same. If the shoe fits.

  6. Hypocrisy, sure, but I’m not sure that it is enough to make the prosecution “unconscionable”. The government, in its foreign and security policy, does many things that quite rightly would get a private individual prosecuted. (Say, shoot some guy walking down the street in Syria, or use blackmail to get information out of someone.) We don’t normally hold the government to the same standard as everyone else.

  7. @ Martin Holterman You said: “We don’t normally hold the government to the same standard as everyone else.”

    Who is “we”?

  8. @John: In this case, “we” is the law. Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi.

    (If you prefer examples that are not related to foreign and security policy, the State may lock people up while a private citizen may not, the State may take someone’s property without their consent while a private citizen may not, the State may enter someone’s home uninvited while a private citizen may not, etc.)

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