“I wept today because right had been done.
No. Not justice. Right. It is easy to do justice-very hard to do right. Unfortunately, whilst the appeal of justice is intellectual, the appeal of right appears for some reason to induce tears in court.”
-Sir Robert Morton, The Winslow boy.
Today, I will highlight the story of George Archer Shee, probably the most famous teenager of Great Britain. What makes Archer-Shee famous is a tale. A tale of honesty, innocence and right.
George Archer-Shee was a young naval cadet studying at Royal Naval College, Osbourne. On 7th October, 1910, Archer-Shee was expelled from school on the grounds of stealing a postal order from a fellow cadet. He was expelled without any proper evidence, save a statement from a school clerk and without being given a chance to defend himself.
However, George Archer Shee claimed that he was innocent. And innocence isn’t something that can be taken away from you.
Martin Archer-Shee, his father, and a staunch believer in his innocence engaged Sir Edward Carson, the most famous barrister in England at that time.
What followed was an epic battle. A battle of a 13 year old who had been labeled and ticketed for all his future life as a thief , traitor and forger. A battle by a father to prove his son’s innocence to the world. A battle by a barrister for the greater good.
Sir. Carson cleverly proved all evidence against George as baseless and was on the verge of winning the case, when another bomb was dropped on the Archer-Shee family.
Britain was in the shackles of WW1, tension and distrust arose from every nook and corner of the country. The admiralty argued viciously that the safety of the country was more important than “a mere case of a 13 year old boy”. The case was temporarily suspended in court.
That’s when Sir. Carson pled to the judiciary using the petition of right, which gave an individual the right to challenge the court.
The petition was received by King Edward VII, who signed it with one phrase.
“Fiat Justitia-Let right be done”
That day, ladies and gentlemen, right triumphed. the petition of right was filed, the case was FINALLY brought to court and Sir Edward Carson proved Archer-Shee’s innocence, before famously breaking down in court. In a period when an Englishman’s castle was rapidly transforming into his prison, Martin Archer Shee’s fight for his son’s innocence proved that honestly and right prevails above all. In a period of time when Britain was being gripped by the First World War, Sir Carson’s triumph proved that humanity still existed. His triumph embodied hope. His triumph signified the triumph of right. Archer Shee’s case was immortalized by author Terrence Rattigan through his drama, The Winslow boy, which I recommend all of you to read.
Now, you may ask me, what is the purpose of this article? Why am I harping on and on about something that occurred over a century ago? What significance can this case possibly have in our lives?
Well, to put it bluntly, its significance is deep. We all know theoretically that the judiciary is a phoenix that rises from the ashes of injustice and despair to ensure that no poor civilian is denied right , however, now, these words seem increasingly hollow. right is being thwarted time and again by corruption, greed and the government.
Sanjay Dutt, a man who possessed weapons unlawfully during the Mumbai 1993 bomb blasts, has politicians and film stars and the crème-de-la-crème of the society requesting to the judiciary to reduce his sentence. He was later granted parole for a month. Why? He’s a film star. A man of power. What happens to the son of a poor farmer who was unlawfully arrested by the local police? He remains rotting behind bars.
In fact, the last case I remember where the powerful was thwarted by justice happens to be Jessica Lal murder case. Jessica Lal was murdered in 1999, but her killer got his sentence only in 2006. And later, he was seen partying in a delhi nightclub when on parole. Ajmal Kasab was finally hanged… but when? After 4 years- approximately 50 crores on his upkeep. Is this what we pay our taxes for? So that a recognized terrorist gets to live like a king?
Is this the “justice” our country seems to advocate? Is this the right our preamble ensures to our citizens?
If , even in a time as grave as the first world war, the pleas of a 13 year old do not remain unheard, the name of an innocent is prevented from being tarnished, what is stopping us in today’s world? Why is the battle of good v/s evil transforming into a battle of power v/s justice?
We are the country. The people. We make the democracy, we pay the taxes, we run the country. If the people learn to fight for right, justice and common goodwill, that day won’t be far away when right will truly prevail above all.
So, the next time you see injustice happening, be it something small like your local grocer charging you above the MRP or something on a much bigger scale,
Remember the story of a father, who, despite his failing health, fought against the world for his son’s innocence. Remember the story of a 15 year old boy who refused to be labeled a thief and a forger. Remember the story of a barrister who gave up the post of “Chief Fleet Judge” so that he could fight the boy’s case.
And remember to raise your voice and say, “let right be done”.