Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Once again, British justice turns on the victims

With their village plagued by the incessant ringing of a faulty burglar alarm in a deserted cottage, the parish council chairman and his deputy decided to do their duty. Edmund Done, 67, and his deputy Jim Curtis, 73, snipped the wire and silenced the device which had rung for 20 minutes every two hours for two months.

After that, peace was restored – until nine months later when the pair were hauled before a court accused of causing criminal damage and threatened with a possible three-month jail sentence for snipping the wire, worth 5p.

Following a two-year saga involving nine court appearances, and despite a protest campaign by almost 300 villagers, Mr Done and Mr Curtis were due to stand trial today before magistrates in Skegness, Lincolnshire. But the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges after the men accepted police cautions.

Yesterday, the two friends criticised the service for wasting an estimated £40,000 of taxpayers’ money on the case. ‘It is ridiculous that it has gone on like this,’ said Mr Done, a former motor engineer who has stepped down as parish council chairman in the village of Hagworthingham.

Mr Curtis, a retired farm labourer whose bungalow backs on to the offending Foxglove Cottage, said ‘We signed a caution on advice and that’s the end of the matter. It is not a conviction and we don’t have a criminal record. ‘The cost of all the court cases must be horrific. It was a hell of a lot considering the wire only cost a few pence.’

Although technically neither man has a criminal record, both would be forced to declare the caution if they had to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check.

Mr Done said: ‘We did everything possible to contact the owner of the building but we could not find out who it was.If we had known who owned it then it could all have been sorted out amicably without all this cost. ‘The alarm should not even have been there as it is a listed building and the owner did not have permission.’

The law states that controlling noise pollution is the duty of the police and local authority. ‘But no one wanted to know,’ said Mr Done. ‘We appealed to the police and the district council but nothing happened. ‘It was only as a last resort that we cut the wire. It was done with the minimum amount of damage. What else could we do? The alarm had been going for eight weeks. The majority of villagers were fed up with it. It was disturbing people, particularly at night when it is very quiet around here. ‘It would ring for 20 minutes and then stop while its battery recharged then start up again a couple of hours later.’

It is unclear who eventually complained about the cut wire although villagers believe it must have been the cottage’s mysterious owner. Inquiries showed that, according to Land Registry records, Foxglove Cottage was bought for £55,000 in May 2002 by a Gillian Mary Makinson-Sanders.

Mr Done and Mr Curtis, who both received legal aid, were eventually charged and first faced Skegness magistrates in 2009. The case was adjourned for a variety of reasons and a trial due to be held in August last year had to be put off because Mr Curtis was ill.

The men insisted throughout that they acted for the good of the village – which was the setting for Tennyson’s poem The Brook – and 290 residents rallied round to support them with at least 15 coming forward offering to give evidence in their defence. Their plight even sparked a Facebook campaign called ‘Save the Hagworthingham Two’.

A spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Alliance said: ‘This case has been dragged out for too long and cost taxpayers far too much money already. ‘It looks like these two men were simply trying to do the right thing and the cost to taxpayers of the action against them far outweighs the few pence cost of the damage they did to some wires. ‘It seems ridiculous that the CPS ever took this case seriously – they should have thrown it out long ago.’

A spokesman for Lincolnshire Crown Prosecution Service said ‘Mr Done and Mr Curtis have accepted a caution. That marks the end of the case.’ Lincolnshire police declined to comment.


A one-girl war on the sisterhood

Once a pushy contestant on The Apprentice — the BBC show seeking budding new entrepreneurs — mouthy Katie Hopkins popped up on Question Time last week.

They were discussing the departure from Sky Sports of TV presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys after they were revealed to have made insulting remarks about, and to, women.

West Ham United’s vice-chairman, Karren Brady — once an adviser on The Apprentice — had spoken out strongly against Gray and Keys, ­saying: ‘It makes my blood boil, if I’m absolutely honest. What really upsets me is the fact that only females in our industry are judged by their gender. And that is categorically wrong.’

Would Ms Hopkins, 35, sing from the same hymn sheet? Er, no. She said: ‘I think Sky Sports has completely lost its sense of humour. I think, as a nation, potentially we have lost our collective sense of humour. People like Karren Brady, who has appointed herself patron saint of all things equal, does not speak on behalf of all of the sisterhood.

‘Women don’t want equal treatment — they couldn’t handle it if they got it, quite a number of them. What a lot of women want is special treatment. If you look at all-female shortlists for positions, is that equal treatment or is that special treatment?’

Fellow panellist Edwina Currie reacted furiously, pretending to ­collapse with shock. She said: ‘I cheered when Andy Gray was sacked — “yes!”

‘Remember, he wasn’t just sacked for the off-colour remarks about the assistant referee, which were made before she’d even had a chance to show her competence; he was sacked after a series of clips showing him making offensive and unpleasant remarks. He’s a fat slob, an awful man and I’m glad he’s gone.’

Ms Currie played to the gallery, as you’d expect of an ex-politician. As did Labour MP Chuka Umunna and Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne. Author Will Self maintained his ­customary bored expression throughout. (If it had been a woman TV ­presenter accused of insulting a man, would Ms Currie have said: ‘She’s a fat slob, an awful woman and I’m glad she’s gone.’ I don’t think so.)

Ms Hopkins’s sentiments are not those you often hear on the BBC. Nor in newspapers and magazines. But she’s right. Equal treatment is never enough. Special treatment is what we’re all after.

Women are no different from men in preferring it. And positive discrimination — either on gender or race grounds — is special treatment, whichever way you look at it.

Men must tread carefully when they talk about women publicly, but it doesn’t work the other way. Women can more or less say what they like about men — on TV and elsewhere — without much fear of censure.

But the Sky affair has nothing to do with the unfair treatment of women. It’s to do with ungentlemanly ­behaviour. Not so long ago, broadcasters wouldn’t have employed men — even in sport — who amused themselves by making coarse remarks about women.

Now, standards have fallen. They seek out this kind of man, thinking he’ll help them bond with the yobbo audiences they aim to attract. The BBC is no different from Sky in this respect. Remember the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair and their ‘joke’ about what the latter did to actor Andrew Sachs’s granddaughter?

But when their coarseness comes to light — as it did with Ross and Brand, and Sky’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys — the broadcasters pretend they’re shocked, as if they didn’t know all along what kind of people they’d hired.

Katie Hopkins is an unusual character. She has knocked around the world, competed in tough environments and isn’t shy about blowing her own trumpet. She calls herself ‘the undoubted star’ of The Apprentice and ‘the only candidate ever to say no’ to Lord Sugar — making a spectacular boardroom exit ­witnessed by more than six million viewers.

A former student at The Royal ­Military Academy, Sandhurst, she has worked as a brand consultant in London, Tokyo and New York. She runs ­marathons, has two daughters and appears often on TV and radio, as well as public speaking.

I expect she’s a royal pain at times, but her surprising contribution to boring, smug Question Time was a piercing arrow of truth fired into a blancmange of blather.


Australia: Another tired old Leftist sneer at national pride

Australians have got a lot to be proud about and the surveys reveal that national pride is widespread in Australia. But the pseudo-humorous writer below has nothing but contempt for people who display the Australian flag on their cars. Flags on cars are mainly flown on Australia day, anyway, which is surely an appropriate day to fly them.

His comment on people who want immigration reduced is particularly odious. He implies that they are gun-carrying racists. Since about two thirds of Australians want immigration restraint he must think that he is a very superior person.

The whole piece drips contempt for all sorts of Australians. His fellow haters on the Left will laugh, however

I quite like the Australian flag, and indeed the nation it represents. Certainly it could be improved a bit by the removal of the Union Jack from the corner (though that is an argument for another column), but generally the old girl does a pretty good job of whatever it is that flags are supposed to do.

There is, however, a considerable gulf between a dash of patriotism and national pride, and naked jingoism.

And here we're talking about those bloody plastic flags that flutter feebly from car windows at this time of year, screaming "Look at moi, look at moi!" which (in the world of Kath and Kim at least) rhymes with the equally boorish chant of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!"

The funny part of this is you're more likely to see the little plastic flags adorning a Hyundai than a Holden ute. This does tend to beg the question of why, if you are so fervently patriotic that you feel the need to advertise the fact, do you drive a Korean-made tin can powered by two rubber bands and an overworked hamster?

Actually, the way motorists choose to decorate their cars can be quite informative, telling you a lot about what sort of driver you are sharing a particular stretch of road with.

Pair up the Aussie car flag with a bumper sticker that sports the slogan "F--- off, we're full", for example, and you have enough character-profiling to deduce that the driver is road-rage incarnate and definitely not the sort of bloke to greet with a single-fingered salute when he cuts in front of you at high speed. In fact there's every chance he keeps his One Nation membership card in the glovebox next to his handgun.

Then there's the shiny new four-wheel-drives with stickers advertising which elite private school the owner's progeny attend and whether said children are rugby or hockey brats.

This just screams out rich Ascot mummy with total disdain for the great unwashed around her, who will tend to wield her vehicle like a German Panzer tank crushing all before it.

Often this species of driver is also sighted with those increasingly ubiquitous "My Family" montages on the back . . . OK, so you've got a partner, you've procreated more often than is probably healthy for the national gene pool and you have two dogs. What do you want, some sort of medal?

This is an "It's all about me" driver who thinks nothing of trundling along at 30km/h below the speed limit in the fast lane and assumes handicapped parking spaces are just that handy.

Baby on board? Another breeder. Bully for you. Line up for your medal behind the My Family brigade.

Another one to watch for are larger vehicles festooned with stickers from exotic destinations like Winton, Birdsville and Broken Hill. If there's a tow bar attached to the vehicle you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to assume it's probably an elderly caravan owner which, by definition, means automotive sociopath: "I've paid my taxes, so it's my bloody road."


Britain's Human Rights Act: A crime against liberty

The current debate about control orders shows how human-rights legislation actually aids the state in its attacks on our freedom. Britain's Gestapo won't torture or kill you but there is not much difference otherwise. You have not even the most basic legal rights if they decide otherwise

In 1997, the then UK Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, introduced the Human Rights Bill into parliament. In a lecture given at the time he claimed the bill would be of major significance ‘protecting the individual citizen against erosion of liberties’ (1). Lord Irvine’s words were shared by many who considered themselves to be champions of liberty.

The events of 9/11 were soon to put Lord Irvine’s claim to the test. In 2001, the New Labour government introduced detention without charge but then replaced it, after legal challenges, with control orders in 2005. The Liberal-Conservative coalition government has now announced, after several more legal challenges, that control orders are to be replaced with what many are calling ‘control orders lite’. But contrary to Lord Irvine’s claims, the Human Rights Act has not protected the individual citizen against an erosion of liberties. In fact, it has empowered the courts to become closely involved in shaping the curtailment of liberty.

Detention without charge was promptly challenged by detainees relying on the Human Rights Act. The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 allowed foreign nationals who were ‘suspected international terrorists’ to be detained indefinitely. This provision was a gross breach of civil liberties: detention on an indefinite basis, detention without proof of any crime, detention on the basis of a suspicion, and detention without the detainee having to know either the case or the evidence against him.

So when several of the detainees in Belmarsh prison challenged their indefinite detention, by relying on the Human Rights Act, Lord Irvine’s claim was put to the test. The detainees won the case but not on any basis that struck a blow for civil liberties. The House of Lords, in what became known as ‘the Belmarsh case’, found the detention unlawful on the basis that it was disproportionate to the state’s needs (2), which was human rights speak for saying that it was not wrong in principle. As the court put it, the measure went further than was ‘strictly required by the exigencies of the situation’.

In so far as any clear principle can be distilled from the 100-page judgment from nine judges, it is that the measure was discriminatory because it could only be applied to foreign nationals. Baroness Hale made the discrimination point by hypothesising about the injustice of legislation that proposed to lock up black, disabled, female or gay suspected international terrorists but not white, able-bodied, male or straight suspected international terrorists. As another judge pointed out, this gave ‘the impression that all that was necessary was to extend the power [to detain] to United Kingdom citizens as well’. The House of Lords came close to holding that an erosion of civil liberties would be tolerated so long as the erosion was non-discriminatory.

The government took its cue from the House of Lords and introduced new provisions, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which did not discriminate on grounds of nationality. Control orders, as they are called, can be made against foreign and British nationals. Unlike detention without charge, control orders do not provide for detention in prison, but the controlee can be subjected to any number of restrictive measures that render him subject to a form of house arrest. Typically, the controlee is required to live at a particular address, is subject to a curfew, and his associations are restricted.

Control orders constituted a further erosion of civil liberties: control on an indefinite basis, control without proof of any crime, control on the basis of a reasonable suspicion, and control without the controlee having to know either the case or the evidence against him.

Control orders have resulted in further legal challenges, but none of them has found the control-order regime to be unlawful. Following three House of Lords rulings in 2007 in which several controlees relied on the Human Rights Act (3) , the then minister of state for security, Tony McNulty MP, was correct to claim that the courts have ‘endorsed the principles of the control-order regime’ (4) . The then home secretary, Jacqui Smith, claimed in the wake of the judgment that she was considering strengthening some of the existing restrictions (5).

Having resolved the issue of principle in favour of control orders, subsequent cases have shown the extent to which the courts have become involved in shaping the nature and extent of the controls. The personal nature of this type of enquiry is readily apparent from the Supreme Court’s most recent consideration of a control-order case (6). ‘AP’ was a controlee who was subject to a 16-hour curfew and was required to live at a specified London address until the home secretary required him to live in the Midlands, some 150 miles from his family. The Supreme Court grappled with the fact that on being moved to the Midlands ‘his mother has not visited him at all’, which ‘is just as upsetting for his mother as it is for him’. Apparently, the mother could not visit her son ‘because she has never left London alone’.

The judgment noted ‘another significant hardship for AP [in that it] is difficult for him to feel part of the local community [and] no one in the mosque has welcomed him into the community, or asked him how he finds the area or even what his name is’. And although AP, an Ethiopian, ‘has spotted the occasional Ethiopian… he has not tried to befriend them because he does not want to burden them with his problems. He goes to the gym, but people there see his tag and naturally think that he is a criminal’.

The court’s detailed consideration of AP’s welfare needs shows the extent to which issues of principle about civil liberties are not relevant to the court. Under the Human Rights Act, avoiding social isolation is far more important to the courts than upholding civil liberties.

The Lib-Con government’s Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers carries on from where courts have taken the argument (7). The review notes the ‘extensive litigation’ which has considered the human rights of a right to liberty (Article 5) and a right to a fair trial (Article 6) and notes that ‘a number of [control] orders have been imposed and upheld by the courts’. The point that troubles the government about control orders is the one that troubled the Supreme Court in the AP case – namely the ‘significant impact on an individual’s health and personal life and their ability to go about their normal lives’ and the fact that ‘relocating an individual to a different part of the country raised particularly difficult issues’.

So in forthcoming legislation we can expect control orders by another name, which continue to curtail a person’s liberty without proof of any crime, on the basis of a reasonable belief that the person has been involved in terrorism-related activity, and without the person having to know either the case or the evidence against him. Whatever these orders end up being called, it is clear that they will have been shaped by lawyers and judges wielding the Human Rights Act.

It is not surprising that the UK Human Rights Act has been an ineffective tool in safeguarding civil liberties as there is no provision in the Act, or the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Act gives domestic force to, to outlaw control orders or their intended successors. The Act requires the courts to be satisfied that a particular measure is ‘proportionate’. But ‘proportionality’ causes courts to shape the scope of restrictive measures rather than to declare them unlawful.

Civil liberties are important because of what they establish about freedom. They create a framework within which the individual has freedom such as the freedom to speak, associate, live or work as he chooses. These freedoms are so important that their curtailment by the state should require the sanction of a judge and jury, satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, sitting in a criminal court. Control orders foster a culture in which personal freedom and liberty are seen as less important, as something that can be taken away providing the secretary of state and a judge find it proportionate.

Civil liberties and human rights have different qualities. Civil liberties are directed at curtailing the state’s power, whereas human-rights claims invariably seek to invoke more state power. Civil liberties aim to protect individual freedom, whereas human-rights claims invariably aim to regulate human behaviour. Civil liberties are premised on a belief in human rationality, whereas a human-rights culture and the legal regulation that flows from it are invariably premised on the belief that individuals are vulnerable and not resourceful. This can readily be seen in the AP case where AP and his family were treated as so lacking in resourcefulness that the Supreme Court seemed concerned solely by the alleged difficulties that AP had in making friends and going to the gym and that his mother had in getting a train to the Midlands.

‘Control orders lite’ may turn out to be a less intrusive form of control order. But this will be a reform induced by a concern about the welfare, vulnerability and perceived weaknesses of controlees. This reform will not be a shot in the arm for civil liberties.

No doubt further legal challenges involving the Human Rights Act will be brought against ‘control orders lite’. But whatever the outcome of these legal claims, the real fight for civil liberties will not take place in the courtroom and it will not be won by learned counsel with erudite arguments before judges. A human-rights culture may enable AP to make trips to the gym, but it will not protect the individual citizen against an erosion of liberties.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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