Sgt Blackman, known during his trial as Marine A, has had his sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter. He’s had his life sentence reduced to 7 years and because of time served he’ll be home in the next few weeks.
Scotland has a big community of Royal Marines and ex-bootnecks, along with Arbroath’s 45 Commando, a battery of 29 Commando Royal Artillery soldiers and all the additional, honourable, accoutrements. There’s a lot of empathy in Scotland for a man tipped over the edge in an ultra-violent situation.
When the case was debated at the House of Commons, all the many ex-service (and serving TA) personnel felt the same – Sgt Blackman committed a terrible offence and should have gone to jail, but the law isn’t designed for soldiers in combat. Manslaughter, we all felt, should be an option for a court-martial presented with evidence of an experienced soldier showing signs of breakdown who goes on to kill unlawfully.
It turns out that the law does provide for exactly that – that’s why the Courts Martial Appeal Court downgraded the conviction. That this was open to the court martial in the first place suggests that something isn’t right with the court martial system. It really shouldn’t have taken over 3 years to get to where we are.
Years ago, I convicted a soldier of murder as a member of a General Court Martial. We sent him to jail for life. A year later, his conviction was overturned by the Courts Martial Appeal Court. A while later, I wondered in parliament if courts martial, where soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen don’t get a trial by their peers, should still be handling murder cases in this day and age. Of course, the services always have their eyes on the possibility of big wars in foreign fields where they have to administer their own disciplinary (note; not justice) systems. And a commander shooting a prisoner, even in the heat of battle, is something which might be considered best understood by service personnel.
But, for me, the least the court martial system can do now is introduce jurors of all ranks so that folk on trial really do get a trial by their peers and not discipline by their superiors – after all, they do go to civilian prison if they’re convicted of a serious offence. The services won’t want to do that but the Blackman case throws up issues large enough to justify it to a government of any colour but blue.
In an independent Scotland, we’d be able to start afresh with issues like this – issues often a long way from most folk’s everyday thoughts. We wouldn’t be hidebound by tradition; we’d be able to create new, modern, sensible and fair structures across the board. Everyone can play a part in this right now by putting some thought into the areas of public policy they know about, however seemingly obscure. That’s one way for us all to help raise the standard of pubic dialogue around independence and move it beyond the sterile and juvenile nonsense repeated ad nauseum by Scotland’s unionists.