Civil Liberty

No Jury Trials

Well, that\’s another ancient right down the plughole:

Prosecutors are planning to apply for permission to hold a major criminal trial without a jury in what would be a legal first for England.

The Crown is pressing for a judge-only trial because of concerns that jurors in the case could be subject to intimidation or bribery.

It is understood the request – which will be submitted to the judge on Tuesday – follows consultation with the Director of Public Prosecution.

The trial involves members of an organised criminal network and follows a long police investigation into a large drug trafficking ring.

Provisions for dispensing with a jury if there is "evidence of a real and present danger that jury tampering would take place" were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, but have not previously been used.

Maybe it\’s even sensible in this one case: but who expects it to only be used for such cases?

That Bugging Thing

Seriously?

Lawyers, including the human rights solicitors Gareth Peirce and Mudassar Arani, were allegedly "routinely bugged" by police during visits to see clients at Woodhill prison. Listening devices were said to have been concealed in tables at the jail.

Nationally it is thought that many more people may have been covertly recorded.

Serious criminals, including the Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the letter bomber Miles Cooper, are also thought to have been targeted by the alleged secret bugging.

They\’ve been routinely bugging defense solicitors talking with their clients?

Words fail me.

We Own Your Child

And we\’ll jail you if you try to escape:

A father has been jailed for helping his pregnant wife flee abroad because she was terrified that social services would take her baby.

The 56-year-old businessman drove his wife and her eight-year-old son from a previous marriage to Dover, and then on to Paris.

He was arrested on his return to Britain and lost a High Court appeal earlier this week to have a 16-month sentence reduced.

Those Tory Changes

Oh dear, still some educational work needed here I\’m afraid. Remedial educational work too:

Mr Osborne signals that, if elected, a Tory government would try to reverse the increase and adds: "I\’m a Conservative who believes in lower taxes. If I am chancellor I will approach each Budget seeing whether the country can afford lower taxes."

The country can always afford tax cuts. The question is whether the spending desires of the State can afford tax cuts. The country and the State are not in fact the same thing.

That the police should charge people lesser crimes rather than the CPS: isn\’t that a simple return to what we used to have? But this:

The party would also bring in "virtual courts" – linking custody suites at police stations and magistrates\’ courts by video – to allow some hearings to take place without offenders having to be brought to court.

That really depends. If it\’s a hearing about whether the trial should be on Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, why not? But if it\’s a hearing to charge someone, or to try someone, then it\’s a very large change in the basics of the law: that you be physically present when you\’re tried. It is, in fact, if it were to extend to say charging hearings, an abolition of habeus corpus. And I thiink we\’ve gone far enough down that path, of destroying basic freedoms and liberties in this country, don\’t you think?

What is a Charity

That does now seem to have become a rather political question, doesn\’t it?

The Charity Commission has unveiled its understanding of the new "public benefit test". Introduced by the Charities Act of 2006, the test stipulates that to count as a charity, an organisation must prove that it benefits the public. Last week, the Commission claimed that private schools do not pass it because they benefit only those rich enough to afford the fees. Unless private schools can prove that they also benefit people who are not rich, the commission concluded, they shouldn\’t have charitable status.

The commission was widely attacked for failing to recognise that relieving the state of the cost of educating 500,000 children counts as a benefit to everyone who pays tax. But the real enormity is the test itself, which is political prejudice masquerading as objective assessment. "Public benefit", as applied to charities, is meaningless. No charity benefits everyone: women\’s charities benefit women, cancer charities those with cancer, and charities for animals don\’t benefit people at all. It cannot be an objection to a charity that it benefits only part of the population, for every charity does that. In practice, the question becomes: which parts of the population will be allowed to count as "deserving"?

There are two ways to answer that question. One is to say that they all count equally: it\’s not the job of the state to decide who should receive charity – citizens can donate their money to whatever group they choose, provided that group is not involved in harming others.

The other is to give an unelected quango the power to decide who counts. I thought that was precisely the result that democracy was supposed to avoid, but evidently not: it\’s the result that the 2006 Act has produced. The commission\’s view of who "counts" is inevitably an expression of political prejudice.

Actually, it\’s not democracy which is supposed to avoid this, rather, it\’s civil liberty. Democracy is in fact exactly what the Commission is doing: picking and choosing according to the political dictates of those who have the backing from enough of the population to gain power.

It brings us once again the distinction between democracy and said civil liberties. There are those who insist that democracy itself is the goal: I would insist that it isn\’t. Useful, certainly, the least bad method we have, but it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is the maximum of freedom and liberty that we can all enjoy without popping from the sheer pleasure of it all.

And that means that we have clear and simple rules, ones simply laid out, which apply to all. As noted, a charity raising money to treat ovarian cancer does not directly benefit men. Should it be stripped of its charitable status? Sure, there are indirect benefits to men (wives and mothers less likely to die of a foul disease) but then the same can be said, as above, of private schools: children are educated at no cost to other taxpayers.

The problem here is too much democracy (imagine that the unelected quango were replaced with a popular vote on each and every charity: anyone think this would make things better?) not too little.

Good Grief

What?

Hopes of a deal to end the row over holding terrorist suspects for up to 42 days have increased after it emerged that the Conservatives had offered an olive branch to ministers which could save them from a humiliating defeat.

They\’re negotiating over this? A basic principle of civil liberties, and they\’re going to do a deal?

Sheesh.

Quite Mr. Leith

The trouble is that the politician\’s job is not to generate good vibes: it is to manage useful public projects competently.

And if they can\’t manage that then they shouldn\’t be there, should they?

Sigh

Clause 42 of the criminal justice and immigration bill, which comes before the House of Lords next week, provides that appeal court judges must not rule that a conviction is unsafe if they think "there is no reasonable doubt about the appellant\’s guilt". On the surface, that seems to be a reasonable law. But it is not. It is objectionable on three grounds: it is contrary to the rule of law, it could encourage unacceptable conduct by the police, and it is unnecessary.

There are good reasons why democratic countries lay down rules and safeguards governing the way criminal investigations and trials are conducted. The rule of law is about the principle of fair trials and due process. It includes the need to ensure, as far as possible, that the innocent are not convicted, that no one should be found guilty unless there is unpolluted evidence against him or her, and that there is an adequate system of appeal. Such principles distinguish democracies from totalitarian states. Diminishing the appeal court\’s powers to quash convictions is a breach of the rule of law.

The real problem is "no reasonable doubt about the appellant\’s guilt".

If we haven\’t followed to rules, rules which are there to enable us to make a decision with no reasonable doubt, then how can we have no reasonable doubt?

Free Speech is Free Speech

Via the Anorak I find this.

I am currently out of the Country and on my return home to England I am going to be arrested by British detectives on suspicion of Stirring up Racial Hatred by displaying written material" contrary to sections 18(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986.

This charge if found guilty carries a lengthy prison sentence, more than what most paedophiles and rapists receive, and all for writing words of truth about the barbarity that is living in the midst of our children, which threatens the very future of our Country.

Now reading Lionheat\’s post I don\’t quite understand exactly what it is that he\’s said. I\’m also not sure that I\’m likely to agree with what I suspect he did say: that one blog post tells me that he\’s not really my kind of guy.

But the claim is that he\’s to be arrested for something he\’s posted on his blog. My view on this is pretty simple: other than libel and incitement to violence (which includes that shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre thing) we\’ve a right to say anything we damn well please without fear of the law. I also realise that this isn\’t quite what the law itself says, but then that\’s an error with the law, not with the right to free speech.

As The Anorak says, this is similar to the Samina Malik case,

Anyone know more details about this case?

The Contiental Legal System

They\’ll be harmonising the legal systems soon enough and this is the sort of thing which will happen:

An Italian teenager suspected of killing his mother – a well known author of a guide to the Harry Potter books – will remain in prison for a year while the investigation continues, a judge has ruled.

Note that this is not on remand, awaiting trial.

After two hours of interrogation, the judge decided that there is enough evidence to hold him in custody pending formal charges.

It\’s a year in jail before formal charges are laid down. A year before he even knows what he will be charged with, a year before he has any possibility of attempting to refute the charges, a year before he can even start to prove his innocence (not that I think he is going to be able to do that but that\’s another matter).

This is what is at the heart of the seemingly arcane matter of being able to continue to interrogate (which we do not currently allow) after charging.

It\’s in direct contravention of the basics of the current legal system, that you can only be held (with a few day\’s grace that is) once you\’ve been charged.

No, I don\’t look forward to the English courts adopting this system, but I fear that it will either be forced upon us….or that the current shower will continue taking us down the road to it.

Well, Quite

Odd but encouraging to find a real liberal in The Guardian:

Here is the book you ought to read to fortify you for the further assault on our freedoms and civil liberties that lies ahead: Towards the Light by the philosopher AC Grayling. It is subtitled The Story of the Struggles for Liberty & Rights that Made the Modern West. Grayling vividly describes how the rights and freedoms liberal democracies take for granted were won at great cost in heroic suffering and death, over several centuries. Yet we\’re in danger of losing them, quickly and unnecessarily, in the name of public safety and administrative efficiency. He reminds us of Benjamin Franklin\’s saying: "He who would put security before liberty deserves neither," and ends with a passionate plea to "never give in to the thieves of our liberties … It is what we owe the dead who bought them for us with their lives, it is what we owe ourselves in our aspiration for good lives, and it is what we owe those whose lives are to come: the inestimable gift of liberty, and the security of inalienable rights."

Aha..

Ahahaha.

Hoist and petard comes to mind.

The high-profile demonstration, intended to highlight the force\’s anger over its recent below-inflation, 1.9 per cent pay rise, is threatening to become a major political flashpoint in the new year. The police claim their preferred route for their march is set to be banned under archaic \’sessional orders\’, laws drawn up in the early 19th century to combat large-scale radical protests that threatened a disturbance of the peace.

The orders are renewed by Parliament each year and invoked by the Metropolitan Police if the force believes a protest will prevent MPs from going about their daily business. Critics of the orders claim they are a heavy-handed response designed to stifle peaceful protest.

I wonder how many of said demonstrating police have refused to impose such restrictions on others?

Our \’Enery

Porter rather lays into Polly T here.

The breathtaking dishonesty of her argument is to describe anyone who opposes Labour on these grounds as a being a right-winger. In our democracy liberals exist in all parties – thank God – and it is eloquent of her desperation that she seeks to portray those who stand for liberty, rights and privacy as being individualists who are seeking the aura of victimhood, which of course decrypts as privileged middle-class dilettantes. The allegation comes from the hard-line sectarian communists of my student days, and it is hardly surprising to find the same generation still at it in New Labour, yet now adding notes of vanity, self-righteousness and priggishness.

I had an email from an Observer journalist once in response to my advice on voting. Voting Tory would make Polly\’s head explode and it was worthwhile for that reason alone. The gist of the email was that anything which made Polly\’s head explode was indeed worthwhile.

There\’s still something of a fault line between the Observer and the Guardian you know. The former is more classically liberal, the latter more modernly.

Polly on Civil Liberties

The poor dear. She gets very confused here, very confused.

But the Porter view turns the state into public enemy number one. That is the traditional rightwing view, but many on the left are buying into this creed of individualism against the collective. The left can\’t resist also being victims: oh, to be arrested for a cause! Labour has played into their hands with cavalier curtailments of civil liberties for illusory political gains. But the left should beware the old rightwing wolf dressed in civil liberties sheep\’s clothing that pursues individual freedoms for the powerful at the expense of collective freedoms for all.

This is the same mindset that sees taxes as an infringement of liberty and an Englishmen\’s property as his inalienable untaxed castle to hand down, untaxed, to his children. It is the mindset in which the right to choose "personalised" services trumps everyone else\’s fair chance for best schools and hospitals. Liberty and equality will always rub along together awkwardly. But social democrats should guard against the individualistic my-rights culture of our times that simply ignores the rights of those whose needs are most urgent, in favour of often relatively frivolous paranoia about an overmighty state.

The positive rights which she argues for, well, OK, let\’s argue for or against such positive rights. But there is no conflict here between having or not those positive rights and the having or not of the negative rights. They\’re entirely different questions. My right to silence on questioning, to a jury trial, to the presumption of innocence, what have these to do with the treatment of asylum seekers, or the method of delivery of state services? Nothing, nothhng at all, and to claim that either concentration upon one reduces the efforts on the other, or that advance on one balances degradation on the other is nonsense.

But the phrase that really chokes going down is "frivolous paranoia about an overmighty state."

The one thing the 20 th century really ought to have taught us is that paranoia about an overmighty state simply isn\’t frivolous. It should be the default position for us all.

Long Working Hours

This is rather something to celebrate, don\’t you think?

Under the European working time directive, workers are legally not obliged to work more than 48 hours, though under a special opt-out granted to the UK British employees are allowed to work longer if they explicitly agree.

So alone amongst the European Union nations the workers in the UK can work the hours they wish to. Not the hours that others think they ought to wish to, but the hours that they themselves actually do.

The latest figures reverse that trend for the first time under the Labour government, with 93,000 more people now working more than 48 hours a week compared with 2006, taking the total to almost three and a quarter million (3,242,000). The increase represents a rise from 12.8% to 13.1% of the workforce.

And it appears that some 13% of the workforce have different ideas about the hours they wish to work than the panjandrums think they ought to.

As ever, we need to distinguish between what people think others should do and what people actually do if left to make the decision for themselves. While the different EU countries are indeed different it would seem, from the UK example at least, that a possible 13% of the EU population (or workforce rather) are being denied, by law, the opportunity to balance work and family life as they would wish.

The solution to this is quite clear. We should lift the 48 hour limit on the working week for all Europeans, for as we are indeed all EU citizens now, it is only right that all of the others enjoy the same freedoms that the British do.

Yes, She\’s Right…

She is indeed featured here.

The Oxford Union debating society have invited Nick Griffin and David Irving to speak, despite the concerns of our local police and the city council, the student union and the Jewish and Muslim societies. I fully intend to be joining the demonstration outside the Union on St Michael’s Street from 7pm this evening. Doubtless there are some who won’t agree with me (I fully expect to be featured on Tim Worstall’s or the Devil’s Kitchen blogs later today, which will inevitably be followed by an onslaught of disagreeable comments).

Now boys and girls, play nice here. If disagreeable means not agreeing with Ms. Bance, that is of course fine. But being disagreeable just for the sake of being disagreeable isn\’t. Not when we go and play on someone else\’s property it isn\’t.

Of course she\’s entirely correct in this:

But I would just point out that having the right to freedom of speech doesn’t mean having the right to be invited to speak at a private members’ club.

Indeed it doesn\’t, even I would insist that it doesn\’t.

I would insist however that freedom of speech absolutely includes the right of a private members\’ club to invite whoever they should wish to come and speak to them. Which would appear to be what Ms. Bance is off to demonstrate against this evening.

Ho hum.