Monday, April 24, 2006

The great civil liberties debate

Many have written more eloquently and more effectively than I could about the pernicious nature of the views on civil liberties propounded by Tony Blair in his Observer email exchange with Henry Porter this past weekend. I thought it worthwhile pursuing the point a little further, however, since someone saw fit to put the following in the comments box to a previous post in which I made a throw away comment about "TB's utterly ridiculous views about civil liberties". The commenter says: "you mean his absurd opinion that people should be free to lead their lives without yobbos heaving bricks at their houses or blowing them up on the tube?! "

No actually, I mean the ridiculous view that people should be presumed innocent until found guilty. The ridiculous view that personal freedom of movement should not be restrained unless due process has been followed. The ridiculous view that young people should not be demonised as responsible for much broader and deeper social ills. And so on, and so on.

But more specifically, I think it's worth referring to a short piece by Marcel Berlins in today's Guardian, where he exposes very effectively what rubbish Blair, as an ex-lawyer (I stress the ex- because I cannot see him ever making a living at it again, can you?), talks about legal process in the UK. Berlins very generously refers to them as Blair's "muddled thoughts":

[Blair] writes: "This government gave British citizens for the first time ever the power to challenge executive action or legislation, through the incorporation of the European convention [on human rights]." Utter, complete nonsense. I cannot believe that he has not heard of, or has forgotten, the vibrant procedure of "judicial review", under which thousands of citizens (and others) successfully did what Tony Blair now claims was impossible until Labour came to power. He writes also: "The point about the Human Rights Act is that it does allow the courts to strike down the act of our sovereign parliament." It does no such thing, as his government made absolutely clear time and again during the debates that accompanied the passing of the legislation. Did Tony Blair write those emails himself, or was it some ignorant Number 10 lackey?

What an interesting question.

10 Comments:

Blogger Hughes Views said...

You write as though the British legal system were perfect in every detail and not, for some of them, a sort of playground in which lawyers grow rich (and much richer than Prime Ministers).

Many people are pretty fed up with the difficulties of obtaining sucessful prosecutions against those who for example: persistantly commit low level crime, traffic in people, commit complex frauds or plot the downfall by force of our government. Too often the legal system seems too keen to protect the interests of such people especially if they can afford legal fees or have access to legal aid.

The freedoms that libertarians seek to protect are often those that allow the powerful and/or rich to do what they like regardless of how much it interferes with the lives of the less powerful.

The thin end of the wedge argument doesn't work. It is a nonsense to argue that Britain is becoming a police state (and an insult to the hundreds of millions who live in real police states) or that little by little our civil liberties are being eroded. It would be equally nonsensical for me to argue that liberatarians are little by little eroding my protection against being murdered...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

I write as if the constitutional protections we all enjoy are not the plaything of one party or group of people, but something which (a) have been struggled for for hundreds of years (with many losing their lives in the process of instituting a form of democratic constitutional monarchy in the UK) and (b) which for those very same reasons require protection and vigilance at all times. I am absolutely not a libertarian. However, I am a liberal, even some might say a bleeding heart liberal, and a lawyer by education if not by professional training, and perfectly proud of it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

round one to hughes

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Cliff said...

I'm not sure what you would call me or where I stand on the left-right spectrum but it seems to me that there is a clear erosion of civil liberties, not driven by a crime reduction agenda because I rarely see a policeman in my town or on the roads and the only ASBO around here was placed on someone for throwing rhubarb at her brother. The thrust of control measures; ID cards, ASBOs, photographing your car resistration as it travels around the country, making your phone company keep it's call and location records for government inspection, email monitering, CCTV on every street corner, arresting protesters near the house of commons is nothing to do with fighting crime, is generally acknowledged to have little role in fighting crime and are just there to give the state more control and information about our everyday lives.

In the meantime in a small town in Yorkshire where it isn't terribly difficult to discover anything about anyone a girl was murdered in June last year and there is still no sign of the police finding her body, never mind the killer. Little by little mr Hughes our civil liberties are being eroded signifcantly and your faith that it is all to save you from being murdered is touching but not supported by the evidence.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Numptie said...

So anonymous you like hughes would like to lock everyone up and throw away the key because Blair is right and we're all wrong is that it? Round 1 to BondWoman I say.

On the point of the kids who commit 'low level crime' most of them are victims of a great deal of mental and physical abuse in the home, and both of you would advoacte bringing such kids into a judicial system that is just going to put them in a position where they learn to become even more hardened criminals - nice one mate, remind me never to vote for you in an election.

Could I also just remind you that we have a Prime Minister with a proven track record of lying, and I for one would not trust him with the keys to the privvy!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Daffodil said...

Just because someone is the victim of mental and physical abuse in the home doesn't mean he/she should not be responsible for any crimes, even low level crimes, they commit. Perhaps what these young people need - and have never have - is boundaries, even if those boundaries have to be imposed by the criminal justice system (at least that is what all those in the TV programme on Youth crime concurred last night). Surely doing nothing is the moral equivalent of locking them up and throwing away the key?

I'm married to a part-time criminal judge and know several more - none meet the stereotype you imply by your comments on the criminal justice system and all are parents of teenagers or near-teenagers. There are a wide range of community-based penalties which aim to help the offender, not create further criminal behaviour.

Daffodil

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

Thanks for all those comments. I can't speak for others, but for myself I wasn't commenting about the workings of the criminal justice system, but the underlying system of civil liberties (whether or not protected under the Human Rights Act or the ECHR) which protects minorities against the tyranny of the majority. However, as the mother of a teenage boy who wears hoodies, I have an instinctive reaction against a lot of the demonisation of young males which goes on, since they are statistically far far more likely to be victims than perpertrators of crime, and moreover they are more likely to be victims of crime than those "grown ups" who typically hold the levers of power.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Daffodil said...

Sorry, relatively new to the etiquette of commenting on blogs and get distracted by other comments posted. I was referring to numptie's comment on the criminal justice system, not your original post, and gather that is not really the done thing.

I noticed the bit in Blair's e-mail about the Human Rights Act striking down Acts of Parliament and couldn't believe it either. The whole premise of the Act was that the un-elected judges should not be allowed to strike down a law made by our elected representatives. God knows who drafted the e-mails, but more fool Tony for putting his name to them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger BondWoman said...

No worries Daffodil! It's been an interesting comment trail anyway.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Numptie said...

Daffodil - I am not advocating that such kids should not be made responsible for their actions, but I think that demonising them with ASBO's and such like is the wrong way to approach the problem. Bringing them into the judicial system, possibly into contact with more hardened criminals can only be storing up problems for the future. There has to be a better way of solving this problem and bringing these kids back into a normal societal frame of mind which willl enable them to grow up as valued members of society, instead of pushing them down the slippery slope of always being outcasts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006  

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