A Miscarriage of Justice
This page created June 28 1998
Free Satpal Ram!
Self-Defence Is No Offence
On 16th November 1986, Satpal Ram went out to eat at a restaurant in Lozells, Birmingham, UK. He was racially abused by a group of sixwhite people at another table, one of whom broke a glass and attacked him with it. Satpal was stabbed in the face, managed to push his attacker away, but was stabbed again in the face and arms. In fear of his life and unable to escape, he defended himself with a small knife he used for work. Both were taken to hospital, where Satpal's injuries were stitched up. His attacker refused medical treatment and subsequently died.
Satpal was charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Twelve years later, he remains a Category B (high-risk) prisoner, shuffled from one gaol to another more than fifty times - which serves to further isolate him and make it difficult for friends, relatives and supporters to visit.
Satpal's trial fell a long way short of ensuring that justice was done. His lawyer met him once (for forty minutes) and changed his defence from one of self-defence - pretty strong when you're fighting off an unprovoked attack by a man 4 stone heavier and 3 inches taller - to one of provocation. He also failed to call Satpal as a witness in his own trial. For his part, the judge refused to provide interpreters for the Bengali-speaking waiters who were key witnesses (he couldn't speak a word of Bengali, but insisted he'd do the interpreting), and as a result Satpal was convicted by an all-white jury largely on the statements of the friends of his attacker.
In 1995, by which time he'd spent nine years in prison, Satpal's case came up for appeal. He lost. Once again, the judges wouldn't let Satpal give evidence, and upheld the conviction on the basis of evidence given at the original trial by the very people who'd attacked him. Their judgement ignored the misinterpretation of crucial witness accounts (there were no Bengali interpreters, remember) and the fact that Satpal was the victim of a racist attack.
"I've now been in prison for over eleven years, wrongfully convicted of a crime I am not guilty of. I can only express a sense of disbelief at the unfairness of the criminal justice system."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Plenty. And it's easy. And it works. As Satpal points out: "As in previous cases of injustice, sustained pressure is the only way that the system has acknowledged and accepted that a miscarriage of justice has taken place."
So please, think about how you can support Satpal's fight against injustice in some way. Firstly, it would take five minutes of your time to write a letter to Jack Straw, the British Home Secretary, urging him to have Satpal's case re-examined immediately. Send another to your MP. (Keep them polite). It may not seem like much, but the effect of hundreds of letters like these is to nudge the authorities towards redressing the wrong that has taken place. And once you've done that, drop Satpal a line, send him a card or a letter, letting him know of your support. It'll mean a lot.
Write to the Free Satpal Campaign. Their address is below. Ask for leaflets, which you can distribute at your workplace or school. Tell people about Satpal's case. Ask the Free Satpal Campaign what you can do in your area to help; maybe send them a small donation towards mounting legal costs. Buy a Free Satpal t-shirt from the Campaign headquarters (write to them for details).
This case is one of many which highlight the court's ambivalent attitude towards racist attacks.
Self-defence against racist attacks is not a crime!
The Home Office
Queen Anne's Gate
House of Commons
Satpal Ram (E94-164)
Durham DH1 5YD
And for more information:
Free Satpal Campaign,
c/o 101 Villa Road
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