The Judge RANTS!
One of the most remarkable psychological phenomena of recent years has been the increasing tendency of a significant proportion of the public - and an overwhelming majority of our politicians and senior police officers - to forget some of the basic underpinnings of life in a free, democratic country under the rule of law.
One of the most fundamental principles of living in such a society is that people are innocent until proven guilty.
Despite this, successive governments - either from a desire to appease the yapping of the mongrel tabloids, or from a wish to be seen to be 'doing something' in response to a high-profile crime, or simply from wanting to obscure their own feelings of inadequacy - have spent a great deal of time in the last twenty years undermining such an important concept.
Whether it be the oleaginous Michael Howard effectively removing the right to silence, or a long succession of Labour Home Secretaries either watering down or removing altogether some of the most basic safeguards we as citizens/subjects have against overweening state power, the end result is the same; that the mindset of our legislators, police and punditocracy has been moulded to believe in a sort of efficiency expert's idea of a justice system, i.e., do whatever gets results you can display on a spreadsheet, irrespective of whether those results bear any relation to what normal people might call reality.
And so, gradually - sometimes by stealth but just as often by brazenly overt means - the notion that we are innocent unless convicted by a court of law after a trial conducted by due process has been eroded to the point where in many cases it scarcely exists anymore. So many summary offences have been created (whereby you're guilty if a policeman or other petty official says you are), so many alleged offences have been reclassified as 'arrestable' (i.e., just about all of them), so many measures have been introduced to imply guilt where none can be proven, that it's probably time that we dispensed with the fiction that we have the right to be innocent anymore.
I adduce just three examples out of the many I could have cited had I the time to go back and look:
- Some of you may remember the big hoo-hah a few weeks ago about how the police had managed to foil a massive terrorist plot in Manchester which was due to cause carnage over the Easter weekend. It must have been true - it was in all the papers, and Gordon Brown said so as well.
Except that it turned out to be a load of bollocks. They found that the 'suspects' had photographed some landmarks in Manchester, and had some bags of Tate & Lyle in their kitchen. The 'evidence' was so weak that the police gave up after less than half of the twenty-eight days they could have held the dozen men for, and released them all without charge...
...except that eleven of the twelve - who were in the UK on perfectly valid student visas - were not freed, but handed over to the Immigration Service (or, as it is now called in Bollocksese, the 'UK Border Agency') with a view to having them deported for what Jacqui Smith (yes, her again) called "reasons of national security". Well, we know that the paranoid sociopaths who run our land have a very elastic notion of what constitutes 'national security', but a definition which includes "being potential embarrassments to a government rapidly paddling up Shit Creek" has a certain novelty value if nothing else.
So, innocent but deported anyway. One-nil to the enemies of liberty.
- You would think that if you had a sum of money, it was yours unless it could be proven that you had obtained it dishonestly. Wouldn't you?
Well think again. Under the Proceeds Of Crime Act, the authorities don't need to prove anything. All they have to do is to claim that you obtained the money by 'illegitimate' means, and they can get the courts to take your property from you.
This is what has happened in the last couple of weeks to a man from Port Talbot. He had a sum of £67 000 in cash in his home. It was his money, it was his home, but nonetheless the bizzies decided to arrest him on suspicion of money laundering.
He was never even charged, but the police still used the Proceeds Of Crime Act to apply to a court for a confiscation order which - you may not be surprised to hear - the magistrates in Neath granted without demur.
So, despite the fact that the police couldn't find any evidence to charge the man, and despite the point that he may - as he claimed - have gained the sum involved by perfectly legal means, he has had his property stolen from him with the approval of the court because he couldn't prove his innocence.
So, innocent but punished anyway. Two-nil to the enemy
- Back in the 1990s, the UK established a criminal DNA database. The idea as it was touted at the time was that convicted criminals would have their DNA profiles stored so that they could be examined for a matching sample in any future crime.
Except that, due to that phenomenon known as 'function creep', it isn't just convicted criminals who end up on the database. It also includes anyone who has been a) arrested, charged, tried and acquitted, b) arrested and charged but not tried, and c) arrested but not charged.
Given that - as I said earlier - every alleged offence is now arrestable, this means that the UK database now contains an estimated 800 000 DNA profiles of people who have never been convicted of anything. Moreover, anyone in that group has found it all but impossible to get their samples deleted.
There are some people who see nothing amiss with this. This category includes, as you might expect, government politicians, senior police officers and those whose position as the relatives of the victims of high-profile crimes make them the automatic go-to people whenever the scum press want emotive comment.
In the first category we find pols like Frank Field. Field has long been touted as being one of the real outside-the-box thinkers in the Labour Party over the last twenty years. If this piece of tortured and tortuous logic in today's Guardian is any indication of the fineness of his mind, it makes you wonder a) what the hell the rest of them are like, and b) whether this explains an awful lot about this government's lack of ability to string two coherent thoughts together.
In the second category we find police officers like the one who gave evidence to a parliamentary committee a few weeks ago who said that there were two categories of people: convicted criminals and those who hadn't been convicted yet.
Let us remember that this is a criminal DNA database, so only the DNA of criminals should be on it. A 'criminal' is properly defined as someone who has been arrested, charged, tried and convicted of a criminal offence, all procedures having been carried out under a set of rules designed to ensure (as much as is humanly possible) justice rather than administrative convenience. So why are over three quarters of a million people on it who do not fall into that category, and why are their profiles being stored for ever?
This was what led two people to challenge the UK government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in December 2008 brought out a comprehensive ruling against the way profiles are retained on the database in England and Wales (in Scotland, those not convicted have their profiles destroyed by law, which is as it should be), and ordered the UK government to change its rules.
After five months of prevarication, Wacqui Jacqui has now brought out her department's proposals. They do not include removing the profiles of the innocent (which means, need I say it again, not convicted). Instead, the profiles of the innocent will be retained for either six years or twelve years, depending on the seriousness of the crime of which they were suspected.
Now just think through that again. These are people who are innocent, in that they have never been convicted. Despite that, their profiles will still be kept, and how long they are kept for will depend on whether they were not guilty of a minor offence or not guilty of a serious one.
So, you're on the criminal database because there wasn't enough evidence to convict you of being a criminal, and you're there on the basis of what there wasn't enough evidence to convict you of.
Some see the influence of Franz Kafka in the 'thinking' of the Home Office; others see the shade of George Orwell. I'm beginning to see the hand of Joseph Heller. We now have three categories of citizen/subject: the guilty (those convicted by due process), the innocent (those who have never been arrested), and what Mark Thomas has termed 'innocentish', namely those who have been arrested, however much without due cause or reason, but are labelled as criminals anyway because they're on a criminal database and, in the minds of our rulers, they may end up doing something wrong in the future anyway (or as one Home Office minster strongly implied in a radio interview on the subject, some of the samples are from people who may go on to commit a crime), and you can't be too careful, can you? After all, there's no smoke without fire, is there?
This shows contempt for fundamental liberty and contempt for the public, but it also shows what can most kindly be described as a cavalier attitude towards the rulings of a court whose decisions are binding on the UK state as a signatory to (and one of the founders of) the ECHR. But then, given Smith's attitude to the rules when it comes to claiming expenses, we shouldn't be too surprised.
If you think it can't happen to you, just wait a bit. It can and, if we allow the power-drunk control freaks who currently hold sway over our land the chance, it will.