Deferrals of justice

December 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Big Brother Britain, British Politics, Gordon Brown, Prison Reform | 2 Comments

Whatever your thoughts on European integration, we should still feel a mixture of embarrassment and relief that the European Court of Human Rights remains a rational, independent failsafe against the worst excesses of the British state. A number of blogs have picked up the story of two men from Sheffield whose DNA had been extracted by police and stored on a national database. One of the men had been arrested on suspicion of harassment, the other with attempted robbery. Both were innocent. In Gordon Brown’s Britain, the state can take your DNA for crimes as heinous as dropping litter or committing a traffic violation, and they can hold onto it even if you’re found innocent of the charges brought against you. Whilst the court’s decision will hardly spell the death of the database state, we can at least hope that its power will now be tamed, with at least 850,000 separate records expected to be removed.

But lest anyone assumes that justice has finally run its course, it’s worth remembering that the speed with which the government reacts to these decisions is nothing short of sclerotic. In February 2007, the ECHR ruled that trade unions were legally entitled to exclude members of fascist organisations, yet 22 months later, the changes which are needed to make that more explicit under British law are still being haggled over on a slow-moving employment bill.

But by far the most grievous of these deferrals of justice has been the government’s senseless, obsessive delays in giving prisoners the right to vote. As I’ve noted twice before, the ruling that Britain must extend the franchise to at least some prisoners was made in 2004, and since then, all that’s materialised has been a thoroughly meaningless ‘consultation exercise’. As John Hirst – who took the case to Strasbourg in the first place – points out, this week’s Queen’s Speech contained no mention of the issue, making it almost certain that the ECHR’s decision won’t be written into British law before the next general election.

There’s only so long you can use ‘consultations’ as an excuse for avoiding that which you are legally obliged to do, and for New Labour to have allowed so much time to pass without even a hint at progress shows a blatant disregard for a document they once considered important enough to embed into law. What’s more, the implications of allowing an election to go ahead without extending the franchise are simply embarrassing for Britain. As parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has already pointed out, holding a general election without fixing the law will create “a significant risk that the next general election will take place in a way that fails to comply with the convention and at least part of the prison population will be unlawfully disenfranchised.” Procrastinating your way into a constitutional crisis might be so typically New Labour, but it still makes the country look pathetic.

By comparison, I find the whole Damian Green affair to be superfluous & tiresome, but there was one comment on the saga which struck me as absolutely correct:

“MPs have to be allowed to get on with their job but no MP is above the law.

The man who said that was Gordon Brown. If only he and his government could produce actions to match the rhetoric.

Image: European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, taken by Flickr user keepthebyte (Creative Commons)

A minor victory

July 11, 2008 at 11:04 am | Posted in Big Brother Britain, British Politics, Conservative Party | Leave a comment
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I suppose that given the mitigating factors – the lousy weather, the generally poor turn-out in by-elections and the fact that anyone in their right mind should be sunning themselves in the Mediterranean right now – the 34% turnout and 75% of the vote is a pretty impressive victory for David Davis.

Did the absence off the major parties turn it into a circus filled with loonies, fringe parties and knuckle-dragging malcontents? Absolutely, though Davis was gracious enough to acknowledge that the crowded field speaks well of our election system. Did the beauty queens, greengrocers and Elvis impersonators dilute the impact of Davis crusade? Perhaps, as it bolstered the media narrative that his campaign was quixotic and vainglorious. But did these factors fatally undermine his campaign? Only if your expectations were too high. At the very least, this by-election gave us another three weeks when the issue of 42 days – and civil liberties in general – had some place in the news. This meant it was being discussed by more than just bloggers and Guardian columnists. For all David Davis may or may not have achieved in Haltemprice & Howden, his prolonging the debate can only be a good thing.

Supporting David Davis

June 16, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Big Brother Britain, British Politics, Conservative Party, Terrorism | Leave a comment
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I really hadn’t intended to write anything more on David Davis’ resignation. For a start, the whole job-hunting thing is still an unresolved faff and I’m spending more time wondering whether to abandon Sheffield for the land of rats and rogueish Mayors than I am wondering what Sir Lancelot’s up to. There’s also the fact that BritBlogLand is already engulfed with opinions and I doubt there’s much insight or profundity I can add to the wealth of well-argued posts that are far more worthy of your time. The other reason is that in the past 72 hours I’ve found myself swinging between two extremes and I don’t suppose anyone wants to survey the carnage that occurs when I have an argument with myself. But since someone’s had the impudence to challenge me to put forward a semi-coherent position, I suppose it’d be a good idea if I actually had one. So without further ado, here’s another tract of interminable twittering about the Courageous One and why we should/shouldn’t vote for him. 

A question: if you were a Labour voter/party member in Haltemprice & Howden rather than Barnsley West and Penistone, would you vote for Davis? Would you campaign for him, even? Would your answers to these depend on whether MacKenzie stands, or whether Labour fields a candidate? This Labour party member would vote for him if he could, and I’m waiting for the Internets to provide a means to donate to the otherwise unsympathetic Tory’s self-destructive crusade.

I suppose one reason Davis’ decision is so significant is that it gives a great jolt to people like me who’ve managed to trudge through 24 years of life with the stubborn vow that I would never, ever vote for a Tory. Whilst the by-election renders this vow as pretty self-defeating (Kelvin MacKenzie’s intervention reminds us there are far more noxious options than voting for a Conservative), it refuses to go away because an election that’s ostensibly about a single issue will result in electing someone who will then vote on every other issue. Since Davis is militantly right-wing, I’d be in the position of helping elect someone who will vote against my beliefs 99% of the time. This is where the gag reflex comes in, and makes me have a great deal of sympathy for Unity’s suggestion that voters back a fringe candidate or spoil their ballots.

And yet I’m conscious of how significant a large, cross-party vote for Davis on the issue of 42 days could be, and how it might have the effect of stunning some of those Labour MPs who voted for sensible terror-averting tactics internment to think twice before they reach for the battering ram of the Parliament Act. Since stopping this heinous bill from becoming law should be the primary aim, we should welcome any opportunity to demonstrate our opposition. If that means helping Davis win a landslide majority in a symbolic stunt of a by-election, then we may just have to swallow it – acts of symbolism don’t get much more potent than those delivered at the ballot box.

I don’t like him, I don’t trust him, I disagree with him on almost every issue ever to have faced mankind and most of the time I just wish he would bugger off. But when it comes to 42 days detention, David Davis is indisputably right. On this issue alone and for one night only, I would break the habit of a lifetime and vote Conservative, and I urge all those who actually live in Haltemprice and Howden, whether Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, to do the same.

Update: If that’s not enough to convince you, fans of schadenfreude would surely have some fun watching Murdoch’s sneering little sock-puppet – a liar, a devout enemy of working people and an All-Round Bad Guy – being dealt an embarrassing punch in the jaw by the people of Haltemprice and Howden.

Stars of CCTV

May 7, 2008 at 10:42 am | Posted in Big Brother Britain, British Politics | 3 Comments
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Image by Flickr user jordi.martorell (Creative Commons)

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Big Brother Britain. On the one hand, roadside speed cameras and the surveillance of motorways, airports, transport interchanges and other public buildings is a public safety necessity. I can also see no good reason why CCTV shouldn’t be installed in areas of high crime, and I’ve never felt particularly spied-upon whilst walking the streets of London – not because I have nothing to hide, but because I don’t feel I have anything to fear. Lastly, if your opposition is based on the infringement of freedoms CCTV represents, your first step must surely be to campaign against the roughly 3,000 new offences Labour’s put on the statute book since 1997.

On the other hand, I’m not in favour of wasting money on ineffective policing methods, and you’ve got to admit the revelation that only 3% of all crimes are solved by CCTV cameras doesn’t reflect well on their effectiveness. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether that statistic remains quite so alarming when it’s properly interrogated. Okay, so only 1 crime in 30 is solved by CCTV, but many crimes are committed in the home or in the workplace, on the road or at night when CCTV is inevitably less effective. Many crimes take place near CCTV systems that aren’t operated by local authorities and therefore no-one’s obligated to maintain them. Lastly, many crimes are prosecuted where the evidence is so substantial that CCTV footage, if it even existed, wasn’t required in court.

So I think Chief Inspector Neville’s statistic was arrived-at by asking the wrong question. The question shouldn’t be “how many crimes were prosecuted with the help of CCTV?”, but “how many unresolved crimes occurred in areas where CCTV was operational?” When you ask that question, the failure rate probably decreases dramatically.

The bottom line for me is this: is investment in CCTV the most cost-effective way of fighting crime? If, as the Independent suggests, it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to keep these systems operational, is that money being spent wisely or do you get more value from diverting it towards traditional policiing like late night foot patrols? If it turns out that CCTV is the most cost-effective way of cutting/prosecuting crime, then I can probably cope with having my picture taken coming out of Bungalows & Bears for a cigarette.

Well, providing they don’t tell my mother, at least…

Photo by Flickr user jordi.martorell (Creative Commons)

Obstacles to suicide

March 24, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Posted in Big Brother Britain, Idiot Hall of Fame | Leave a comment
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Since the government is still wasting our money pimping hilariously impractical ‘solutions’ to stop its citizens smoking (apparently banning smoking in pubs, slapping stark health warnings on cigarette packets and raising tobacco duty in every budget since the dawn of time hasn’t quite done the trick), The Bleeding Heart Show has decided to perform its civic duty and offer some sensible measures of its own, free of charge. They can thank me later:

  1. Taxes on cigarettes should now be renamed ‘council tax’
  2. More cigarettes should be laced with carbon monoxide
  3. Heather Mills should be recruited to front a pro-smoking campaign, ensuring millions give up en masse.
  4. Likewise Fiona MacKeown
  5. All cigarettes must now be fitted with audio devices that emit James Blunt tunes each time someone lights up.
  6. Before buying a pack of cigarettes, each smoker must be ‘Means Tested To Determine Their Need.’ Roughly translated, this means everyone who tries to buy cigarettes must first be subjected to a 10 minute waterboarding session. If they still want their cigarettes after that, they’re welcome to ‘em.
  7. A well-funded Think Tank should be established, issuing chilling reports that claim ‘One In 5 Cigarettes Is Laced With Deadly Islamofascist Semen’
  8. Not only must all smokers register for a ‘smoking license’, but that license should be published in our national newspapers under the heading “A List Of People Who Smoke (And Who Might Also Molest Children)”
  9. All cigarette transactions must be conducted in Mandarin.

Words are crimes

March 10, 2008 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Big Brother Britain, Terrorism | Leave a comment
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Intrepid policework: In May of last year, police raided addresses in Birmingham and Leeds. Hasina Patel, the widow of Mohammad Sidique Khan, her brother Arshad Patel, Imran Motala and Khalid Khaliq were all arrested and questioned on suspicion of terrorism. A week later, only Khaliq was charged with any wrongdoing; accused of possessing an Al-Qaeda training manual for which he has today pleaded guilty.

Now, it may be that Mr Khaliq is a dangerous little hate-mongering runt who wastes what little brain power he has daydreaming about bringing mass death to our nation’s streets. If so, a long and miserable prison sentence is richly-deserved. But…

Am I the only one who feels slightly queasy about arresting someone for what they may have read? There are many documents on the internet claiming to be Al Qaeda training manuals; I even downloaded one this evening (warning: they’re atrociously-written and there’s a bizarre line about how the Rotary Club is evil). Does that mean I should be considered a terror suspect?

The other apparently damning piece of evidence released to the media was that Khaliq was pictured light-water rafting with two of the 7/7 London bombers. So on top of being guilty of possessing words, you’d have to make him guilty of free association, too. What country was this trial held in again?

Let’s be clear: the CPS has provided no evidence that Mr Khaliq was masterminding a terror plot or even volunteering for one, nor has it been suggested that he was a member of a terror cell or had been pimping bilious bigotry on the street. At the end of high-profile raids that saw three other suspects released without charge, all they managed to charge him with was possessing something that’s easy to obtain over the internet.

Yes, cases like these are often more complicated than the media coverage suggests; there are often details that can’t be revealed and if this belch of self-righteous bluster is later revealed as wince-inducing naivety, I hope I’ll have the decency to admit it.

I just wish he’d done something more dastardly to deserve his sentence, that’s all.

Update: There’s another book that’s been adopted as a chilling training manual. A superb bit of snark by Gavin Whenman:

Seemingly unknown to the rest of us, it is now an offence to own and read certain words, arranged in a certain way. The Government and Parliament are worried that public exposure to “extremist” or “terrorist” literature will turn us into jihad-declaring murderers, regardless of our previous moral or political beliefs, and so have decreed that we may now read from only an authorised list of documents, be they books, essays, articles, blog posts or some other form of written communication.

Naturally enough, during this time of heightened security, we are not to be told what documents are out of bounds to our easily manipulated minds, instead, after these documents have fallen into our hands, we shall be judged as to whether they are “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. The sheer lunacy of this situation should be apparent to anyone. Convicting a person merely for possession of a document is one step removed from a thought crime – the offence of holding certain beliefs which the State finds abhorrent – and in a liberal Western democracy such an offence should simply not exist.

Alas, this is further proof, it would unfortunately seem, that the Government do not treat Nineteen Eighty Four as a work of fiction, but as a government training manual.

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