Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A British Bill of Rights

Light sentences and lax prison discipline are both expressions of the perfectly well-founded view that large numbers of those convicted, vastly in excess of the numbers that have always existed at any given time, are in fact innocent. We need to return to a free country’s minimum requirements for conviction, above all by reversing the erosion of the right to silence and of trial by jury, and by repealing the monstrous provisions for anonymous evidence and for conviction by majority verdict. And we need to return to proper policing. Then we could and should return to proper sentencing, and to proper regimes in prison, with no suggestion that prisoners should have the vote. But only then.

We need to abandon the existing erosion of trial by jury and of the right to silence, the existing reversals of the burden of proof, conviction by majority verdict (which, by definition, provides for conviction even where there is reasonable doubt), the admission of anonymous evidence other than from undercover police officers, conviction on anonymous evidence alone, both pre-trial convictions and pre-trial acquittals by the Crown Prosecution Service, the secrecy of the family courts, the anonymity of adult accusers in rape cases, identity cards or any thought of them, control orders or anything like them, police confiscation of assets without a conviction, stipendiary magistrates, Thatcher’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the Civil Contingencies Act, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, and the Official Secrets Acts. We need to raise the minimum age for jurors at least to 21. We need to extend to the rest of the United Kingdom the successful Scottish extension of the right to serve on a jury without compromising its restriction to those with a tangible stake in society. We need to repeal the provision for “no win, no fee” litigation, while at the same time protecting, restoring and extending Legal Aid.

We need the current judicially imposed arrangement on privacy to be enacted into the Statute Law, but with the burden of proof in libel actions placed on the plaintiff, and with Legal Aid made available for defamation actions. We need to end and reverse the patenting of genes, algorithms or facts of nature, and to end and reverse any retrospective extension of intellectual property laws in the interests of corporate copyright holders. Instead, we need the open development of software and other creative works. We need absolute submission to the facts of the historical record, assisted by our own past or present support for none of Nazism or Fascism, Stalinism or Maoism, neoconservatism or Islamism, the terrorism of the Far Left or the terror inflicted by regimes of the Far Right. Yes, that submission is a civil liberties issue.

We need to return to preventative policing based on foot patrols, with budgetary sanctions against recalcitrant Chief Constables. We need police forces at least no larger than at present, and subject to local democratic accountability though police authorities composed predominantly of councillors, not by means of elected sheriffs, which, like directly elected mayors, have no place in a parliamentary rather than a presidential res publica, and are wholly incompatible with the defence, restoration and extension of the powers of jurors, magistrates and parliamentarians. We need to restore the pre-1968 committal powers of the magistracy, restore the pre-1985 prosecution powers of the police, and restore the network of police stations and police houses placing the police at the very heart of their communities. We need each offence to carry a minimum sentence of one third of its maximum sentence, or of 15 years for life. And we need a single category of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on.

The murderers of Stephen Lawrence were and are racists. But the Macpherson Report found no evidence of racism on the part of the police. Rather, it was a case of plain, old-fashioned bent coppers, in the pocket of a criminal family on whose behalf they have, among other things, pursued a very long campaign of harassment against the only witness. Those bent coppers should get their comeuppance. Certainly, two of those whom they acted to protect have done so. Including the one to try and to convict whom the double jeopardy law had to altered. But that alteration has now done its job. That ancient liberty should be restored. Henceforth, as historically, no acquitted person should ever have to stand trial again for the same offence.

Can anyone explain to me how the conviction rate for rape is demonstrably wrong? What, exactly, would be the correct rate? And why, exactly? That a woman has had a most unpleasant experience of this kind, the far greater likelihood of which is a direct consequence of the Sexual Revolution, does not necessarily mean that she has experienced the offence of rape as the law defines it. Either that, or the real scandal is that there are so few prosecutions for what is clearly very widespread perjury, attempting to pervert the course of justice, and making false statements to the police. Not that those two possibilities are mutually exclusive. We need to consider that the specific offence of rape might serve only to keep on the streets people who ought certainly to be taken out of circulation, and that instead we might need to replace the offences of rape, serious sexual assault and indecent assault with an aggravating circumstance to the ordinary categories of assault, enabling the maximum, and therefore also the minimum, sentences to be doubled. That way, those poor women with broken bones and worse, whose assailants were never convicted of anything, really would have received justice.

We must insist on a return to the situation whereby a Bill which ran out of parliamentary time was lost at the end of that session. On the restoration of the power of a simple majority of the House of Commons to require a General Election, whether by rejecting a motion of confidence or by approving a motion of no confidence. On the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights (200 miles, or to the median line) in accordance with international law. On the requirement that EU law apply in the United Kingdom only once it has passed through both Houses of Parliament exactly as if it had originated in one or other of them. On the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. On the requirement of a resolution of the House of Commons before any ruling of the European Court of Justice, or of the European Court of Human Rights, or of the Supreme Court, or pursuant to the Human Rights Act, can have any effect in the United Kingdom. On the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

On the restoration of British overall control of our defence capability. On the removal of all foreign forces and weapons from British territory, territorial waters and airspace, together with the complete operational independence of our Armed Forces under the Crown in Parliament, subject to no foreign command whatever. On the repeal of one-sided extradition arrangements, entirely to refusing to implement them while they remain in place. And, especially now that Norman Baker is a Minister, on the coroner’s inquest that has mysteriously never been held into the death of Dr David Kelly.

There must be an extension to Scotland of the historic liberties, largely as set out above, which have never applied in that far more oligarchic country, where middle-class institutions and upper-middle-class power have been defined as the esse of national identity, a situation which has been made even worse by devolution’s weakening of the Labour Movement. While this might have been a factor contributing to the retention of more rigorous minimum qualifications for jurors in Scotland, criteria which should be applied nationwide as surely as should be the Scots Law requirement of corroboration of evidence, nevertheless it means that, while there is an automatic right to trial by jury for serious offences in Scotland, the decision on which way to proceed in an ‘each-way’ case lies with the prosecution rather than with the defence. The police have no power to caution, and they proceed entirely under the direction of the locally unaccountable Procurator Fiscal, who does not prosecute unless it is in the public interest to do so, which it is for the prosecution alone to decide and for which it does not have to give any explanation. It is extremely difficult to bring a private prosecution, far in excess of the necessary restrictions on that practice which rightly exist elsewhere. These profoundly illiberal arrangements must change.

That would be a start, anyway.

Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas, over to you. As much as anything else, what would the Daily Mail, which to its great credit has done so much in support of Gary McKinnon, then say? If not “Vote Labour”, then why not? All that Blair managed was The Sun, always a floating voter. Bagging the Daily Mail would put Miliband in a different league altogether. Like winning 60 per cent of the vote in Southern villages that Labour had not contested since the 1970s or earlier, in fact. Or winning Chipping Norton. Both of which he has already pulled off.

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