Sunday, 21 November 2004

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun...

So David Blunkett has been busy outlining his proposed new anti-terror laws.



These include:

- trial without jury

- admission of wire tap evidence in court

- civil orders – similar to anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) – which will be imposed against individuals who have not committed an offence but were suspected of “acts preparatory to terrorism”.



Blunkett said:



What we’re trying to do is to square an impossible circle which is to protect ourselves against new forms of threat and adapt our legal system to face it without eroding the basic human rights that people expect in a free and civilised society.”



I disagree. Is it not a fundamental tenet of our legal system that everybody has the right to be tried in front of a jury of their peers? This practice became the norm in England during the reign of Henry II (1133-1189) and replaced practices like trial by ordeal (carrying a red hot iron for ten yards, picking a stone out of boiling water - that kind of thing. If your hands were still burned and infected three days later, then you were guilty. The idea being that God healed the wounds of the innocent)



The jury system itself is of course much older than that... it's mentioned in the bible, and in an early example of a celebrity trial, Socrates was tried by a jury in ancient Athens.



The whole point of introducing a jury was to try and protect ordinary citizens, the little man, from the influence of the "great and the good", who might otherwise be able to intimidate or buy their way to a verdict in there favour. Adding a jury into the equation made this a whole lot more difficult to achieve (or at least a whole lot more expensive).



Why on earth do we now feel the need to get by without it? How do you decide which cases you can try without a jury? Surely the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty will remain in place, or perhaps that doesn't apply to people suspected of terrorism? Perhaps all suspects will now be pre-examined using a red hot metal bar, and if their wounds haven't healed within a specified period of time, they forfeit their right to trial by jury. Is David Blunkett harking back to the "Good Old Days" before the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164? Maybe he's a relative of Thomas Becket?



It's ridiculous, and more to the point, it could be the thin end of the wedge. Which of our rights will be next to be sacrificed on this altar? Perhaps it will soon be perfectly legal for someone to come round to my house, arrest me on unspecified grounds, and detain me indefinitely. Oh hold on, that happens now doesn't it?



How does this make us safer? tell me that? In what way exactly is this protecting us from a terrorist threat?



It's the 30th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings by the IRA, and perhaps at this point we should remember that as well as being an act of terrorism, this was also the cause of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in English legal history. The 6 men found guilty of this crime finally had their convictions quashed in 1991. The court that convicted them had a jury, and it just acts as an illustration of how we simply cannot take our rights and privileges for granted.... even in the face of the most appalling terrorist threat (and let's be honest, Al Qaeda make the IRA look like the scouts, don't they?)



I'm with Benjamin Franklin on this one:



"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " (Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759)



How long will we let our civil liberties be eroded like this?



I notice that Blunkett has said that these reforms will not become law until after the next General Election (assuming Labour win). I suppose that gives us the chance to use our mandates to ensure these proposals don't get anywhere near the statue book. Alas, all the other main political parties are hardly falling over themselves to state their opposition to this, and I'm afraid it looks likely to happen whoever forms the next government.



Perhaps we should revolt and get the queen to sign Magna Carta again?



---

I just watched the Japanese version of "Ring". I was very disappointed. I can see how it influenced "The Grudge", but it was nowhere near as scary.





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