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The public reaction to Ched Evans: “Mob rule has arguably superseded the rule of law”

Ched Evans’ proposed move to Oldham Athletic is off: threats were allegedly made to board members’ families as football continues to eat away at its own reputation. But as well as tarnishing the sport, the episode revealed a worryingly widespread societal lust for vigilante justice.

Debate and discussion is healthy but after the courts have played their part, it is not for the public to impose its own sanctions on somebody’s career or their life

Given their position as important stakeholders in the game, fans are perfectly entitled to oppose a club’s decision to sign the player. Many even feel that the nature of the crime and his lack of contrition mean Evans should never be allowed to return to football. But that is not their decision to make. Evans is legally entitled to work again and should be allowed to do so. That does not mean clubs have a duty to sign him, and it has become obvious that it is not currently in any of their interests to do so. Debate and discussion is healthy but after the courts have played their part, it is not for the public to impose its own sanctions on somebody’s career or their life.

Mob rule has arguably superseded the rule of law

While far from perfect, the justice system in this country is an institution of which we should be proud. Yet the reaction to Evans’ conviction and, in particular, the calls for him to be prevented from returning to professional football, has revealed the degree of contempt in which it is held by many. Since his release, we have seen launched a spectacular public legal coup d’état. Mob rule has arguably superseded the rule of law. Those who trust the legal system sufficiently to use its verdict to dismiss any claims that Evans may be innocent do not appear to trust its capacity to hand out suitable punishment. They profess a belief in the right to rehabilitation, but do not believe it should extend to Evans.

People may have legitimate concerns about the current framework for sentences of convicted rapists, but these do not justify their attempts to undermine the justice system, or excuse the appalling opportunism shown by Ed Miliband and other prominent figures who have waded in to the affair for their own ends.

People may have legitimate concerns about the current framework for sentences of convicted rapists, but these do not justify their attempts to undermine the justice system, or excuse the appalling opportunism shown by Ed Miliband and other prominent figures who have waded in to the affair for their own ends. To let public opinion dictate matters of law would be to renege on the fundaments of our legal system. As Christopher Stacey, director of Unlock, a charity that works with convicted criminals, told BBC News in November 2014, it is “dangerous” for society to specify the types of jobs a rapist may do, beyond those specified by the law.

Nevertheless, it is bigotry cloaked in decency, intolerance in the name of moral supremacy when a footballer seeking to exercise his legal right is prevented from doing so by a public intent on inflicting its own punishments

Despite their arguably noble intentions, what is most astonishing is that Oldham ever considered buying the player, especially after Hartlepool United and Sheffield United had pulled out of any potential deal in the face of huge public outcry. As their name became tarnished by association and their sponsors engaged in self-promotional moral arbitration to leave the cash-strapped club even more financially vulnerable, that it took vile threats to make them change their mind is remarkable.

Nevertheless, it is bigotry cloaked in decency, intolerance in the name of moral supremacy when a footballer seeking to exercise his legal right is prevented from doing so by a public intent on inflicting its own punishments. People are well within their rights to oppose him joining theirs or any club, but it is not for them to decide whether he is entitled or allowed to return to football.

There are currently no professional or legal barriers preventing Evans from doing so and nor should any be arbitrarily introduced for this case. The FA may want to review their procedures for future instances to ensure that at least one good thing can come from this saga. But picking and choosing those who are deserving of the legal tenet of rehabilitation will never constitute justice.

Dan Matthews

Image courtesy of Jon Candy via Flickr

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4 Comments on this post.
  • Anonymous
    16 January 2015 at 18:00
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    TLDR: Fans can oppose Ched Evans joining their club, but that opposition isn’t allowed to have any tangible effect.

  • Anon
    16 January 2015 at 18:02
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    TLDR: Fans are allowed to oppose Ched Evans joining their club, but their opposition isn’t allowed to have any effect.

  • Dan Zeqiri
    16 January 2015 at 18:26
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    You get to the crux of the issue brilliantly here, Dan. Wrong to expect football clubs to be the moral arbiters. I was also disturbed initially by Evans’ lack of contrition; but then he is pleading his innocence through legal appeal, which is his right. Why would he come out in the middle of an appeal process and admit this guilt?!

  • Sim Taylor
    16 January 2015 at 20:22
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    Brilliant article.

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