Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Trial by Tosspot

Don't Dump
I woke up today thinking that if I was going to write a blog entry I'd write something brief and upbeat. I've drifted into the habit of knocking out quite long polemics lately and really, really wanted to spend my time collating my thoughts on the lighter side of things. I really did. A friend has just become a Dad for the first time. Maybe I would come up with something that celebrated the innate bittersweet beauty of life (and death, Stefs will be Stefs). Then, foolishly, I turned the radio on.
Big mistake.
Today was the day the Queen opened the next session of Parliament. As part of the ceremony she reads out a prepared speech detailing what new laws are to be run through Parliament over the next year. I listened to the speech.
My second big mistake of the day.
The project to turn the UK into a police state is gaining momentum. Has it only been three years since 9/11? Since then we have been subject to, or will be subject to:
  • hundreds of heavily armed police on our streets
  • a massive increase in the number of surveillance cameras everywhere
  • introduction of compulsory identity cards
  • legislation that permits indefinite detention without charge or trial
  • neutralisation of our 2nd Chamber through the Parliament Act
  • aggressive wars made in our name justified by outright lies
  • abolition of the right to a jury trial in 'special circumstances'
The screw is tightened with each passing day and the majority of my countrymen don’t seem to realise what's being taken from them. It's frightening to see how freedoms that took centuries to establish can be eroded in a couple of years.
It looks like even the Queen herself may be reading my blog. One day I write about the insane proliferation of security agencies in the US, the next day she's announcing creation of a new 'Serious Organised Crime Agency' in the UK. Presumably, the creation of a Half-Hearted Organised Crime Agency is being held back for another day.
SOCA? Not much of an acronym is it. There are much better ones out there. A spokesman from the Greater Manchester Police was on TV a couple of days ago standing in front of a huge sign with the letters GMP written on it. It was all I could do to stop myself reaching over to the screen with a marker pen and drawing a little 'i' on it. That was a good story. He was warning us about a dangerous felon who'd been accidentally discharged from jail just before his trial. Apparently, he was being tried for six cases of attempted murder with a handgun. Six? That's the plot of a Marx Brothers film, not real life. Welcome to the UK in the 21st Century where the forces of GiMP chase after the World's most incompetent murderer, who's just been cheerfully waved out of prison with a packed lunch and a daily bus pass.
Even though it wasn't in the Queen's speech today our Home Secretary has been floating the idea of doing away with jury trials again. The original reason for contemplating this was for complicated fraud trials where the average jury was not equipped to understand the details of the case. That reason seems to have been dumped now and the new reason is that, in some cases, confidential intelligence sources cannot be revealed to a jury of ordinary people in terrorist cases. Mmmmm, sounds to me like our government just wants to do away with juries and will grasp or manufacture any reason they can to do it. For 30 years captured IRA terrorists were put on trial before juries without the slightest suggestion that things should be done any other way. Now, all of a sudden, we're told we'll have to dump our existing system in the face of the Terror Threat.
I've only done jury service once. Before serving I didn’t have a particularly strong opinion on the need for juries. After doing it I was certain we need them. It was a child molestation case. The accused was a married father of three daughters of apparently unblemished reputation. The accusation was made three years after the alleged event, apparently by the 'victim's' estranged father as part of a custody battle with the mother. There was little or no evidence to support the charge and lots of reasons to disbelieve it. Throughout the trial we, the jury, would chat in the breaks and the conversation normally went along the lines of 'Surely, they'll bring some clinching evidence in at some point. Nobody, could be arrested and tried on the basis of the stuff we've seen so far'. Wrong. The case was junk and we eventually found the guy not guilty. Not all of us though. We went in and out three times because one of us wanted to convict, regardless of the weakness of the evidence. He refused to discuss his reasons with us but we got the impression that he believed that a suspicion, however vague, was reason enough to convict. At one point he said 'Why would anyone accuse someone of something if they didn't do it!' He was a dick.

I came out of the experience having many learned many useful things:
  • In a trial you really don’t want you fate decided by one person, he might be a dick
  • Watching court room dramas does actually equip you to do jury service. In fact, given our lack of a briefing it was a good job all of us had seen court room dramas
  • Several jurors were deeply troubled by the responsibility. One middle-aged West Indian woman at one point said something like 'I know there's no evidence but maybe he did do it. I have no way of telling. I don't know what to do. I'm a cleaner it's not right I should have to make decisions like this'. Which pretty much confirmed to me that she was exactly the right kind of person to make decisions like that.
  • In our modern culture of fear an ordinary person can be arrested by four policemen in two cars outside their front door on a Saturday morning, in full view of their neighbours, on the basis of the slimmest of accusations; there, but for the Grace of God, go I …I still think about that trial every time I play with friends' kids
  • Clearly, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service thought there was enough evidence to convict, given that they are only supposed to forward cases to trial that they think will get a conviction. The case was junk. What chances would the accused have had if the same kind of people were acting as the jury? I'm mindful of the case of the unemployed London chef I blogged a few days earlier, whose only crime was to start a website called 'Ultimate Jihad Challenge'. The media was full of stories of him having £30m in the bank and having sent hundreds of terrorists to Afghan training camps. This was all utter nonsense. His case was taken all the way to a jury trial, at which point 12 ordinary people finally put an end to the stupidity.
The same lies and nonsense applies to introduction of compulsory ID cards. We were originally told they would help fight fraudulent benefit claims, then we were told they were necessary to stop illegal immigration, now we are told they are necessary to counter terrorism. All reminiscent of a bad liar repeatedly changing his story to suit his ends.
We don’t need compulsory ID cards. They won’t work; even if the Government managed to implement the necessary software which, based on every single recent major Government IT roll-out, I doubt very strongly.
The only people whose lives will be restricted by ID cards are law abiding citizens. Ditto for the vast majority of new laws and fines imposed by that tosspot and his mates in No.10. This may come as a surprise to Tiny Blair and Co. but criminals have the most irritating habit of breaking the law and finding ways around restrictions. That's what they do. That's why they are called c-r-i-m-i-n-a-l-s.
The total abolition of handguns in the UK is an excellent example. Our government imposed a complete ban on all handguns in 1997 and, lo!, gun crime has increased rapidly since then. Now they're talking about outlawing replica firearms. Yup, people are being cut down on the streets of London, Birmingham and Nottingham with fully functional, non replica Tec 9s and we're going to put a stop to that by banning novelty cigarette lighters. Welcome once again to the parallel universe that is Blair's Britain.
The traditional and most reliable means of dealing with criminals is to catch them, prove they have done naughty things to a jury of ordinary, objective people, then put the bad people in jail. It also helps if you don’t let them out by mistake afterwards. OK, drafting new bullshit laws and eroding civil liberties are an excellent means of oppressing law-abiding citizens but no democratic government would do something like that. Would it?

No comments: