Friday, October 28, 2011
We need free speech for all – even bigots
A football fan has been jailed for posting sectarian comments on the internet. Why aren’t civil libertarians alarmed?
Stephen Birrell doesn’t like Catholics, he doesn’t like Celtic Football Club manager Neil Lennon and he doesn’t like Celtic supporters. These are not exactly unusual sentiments in certain parts of Scotland. But what is unusual is that last week Birrell was jailed for expressing such prejudices. His crime was to join a Facebook page and share his unpleasant views with the rest of us.
Birrell’s pearls of wisdom included: ‘Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags. Haha.’; ‘Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers’; and ‘They’re all ploughing the fields, dirty scumbags. FTP [Fuck the Pope]’. This guy is not a pleasant individual and obviously not likely to turn up on many lists of people we would most like to have dinner with. But no threats were made, there was no incitement to commit acts of violence and Birrell did not actually harm anyone.
Yet the 28-year-old football fan was charged with ‘religiously aggravated’ breach of the peace and sent to prison for eight months. He was also banned from attending any football games in the UK for five years. In short, this was seen as a religious hate crime and all this has happened even before the new Offensive and Threatening Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill (Scotland) is passed by the Scottish Parliament - a law that would introduce prison terms of up to five years for making sectarian comments at football games or on the internet.
The idea of sending someone to prison for expressing their personal hatreds seems bizarre in a society that claims to allow freedom of speech. But in the frenzied atmosphere being whipped up around the new laws, a judge sitting in a Scottish courtroom felt emboldened to deprive a person of his liberty by criminalising his words.
Birrell is not the only victim of this draconian new mood. Last month, my nephew Brendan travelled all the way from West Belfast to Glasgow to see his beloved Celtic play, only to be arrested while entering the ground for shouting ‘Up the IRA’, a slogan still found on many gable ends in his hometown. He was held in prison all day and overnight before being charged with ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’. Given the prevailing climate, the addition of ‘religiously aggravated’ turns a minor incident that has been normal behaviour for a section of Celtic fans at games for many years into a serious crime with serious consequences.
And then there were the two fans whose banner mentioned the ‘Huns’, a term used by Celtic supporters (and even some Rangers fans) for many years to describe the Rangers football team and its supporters, a term that has now been criminalised in the rush to label every expression as a symbol of sectarian hatred. These fans were also arrested and one was charged with a hate crime. The case was postponed several times, leaving the fans unaware of their fate.
For months, I have warned that politicians are using the physical attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon by a Hearts fan to blur the distinction between words and deeds. This poses a serious threat to free speech and civil liberties. But few civil liberties champions have joined this particular campaign, apparently finding the principle of free speech easy to sacrifice when it comes to ‘uncouth’ football fans who upset their liberal sensibilities.
But you don’t need to like fooball fans to defend their right to free expression. I don’t like anything Birrell says or represents, but I defend absolutely his right to say it without being locked up and labelled a criminal.
Birrell’s case, and the many more that will inevitably follow as fans outdo each other in their rush to take offence at the sectarianism of their rivals, have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with the ongoing demonisation of one group – football fans – in society.
Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, can now claim the dubious distinction of presiding over one of the most authoritarian and illiberal pieces of legislation in Western Europe. Anyone who remotely cares about basic civil liberties should howl with rage at the imprisonment of Stephen Birrell and should stand up now to defend free speech and the right of football fans to be offensive, whether on Facebook or in the stands at Ibrox and Celtic Park.
Two strikes and you’re inside: Repeat criminals to face mandatory life sentences in Britain
Good if it happens but British judges are a law unto themselves
Repeat criminals convicted of a second serious offence will face a mandatory life sentence, under new ‘two-strikes’ rules.
Life terms will automatically go to anyone twice given jail terms of ten years or more for crimes such as rape, child abuse, serious GBH and terrorism offences.
They will also apply to the crime of ‘causing or allowing the death of a child’ - the offence for which Baby Peter’s mother and boyfriend were jailed.
The sentences will replace Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) which saw dozens of criminals locked up indefinitely without any prospect of parole.
As the plans were revealed last night, it emerged Justice Secretary Ken Clarke had suffered a major defeat in his opposition to mandatory jail terms for 16 and 17 year-olds caught wielding a knife.
Just 24 hours earlier Mr Clarke had made clear his opposition to such a move. On Tuesday he told the Home Affairs Select Committee compulsory jail terms for young offenders were ‘a bit of a leap’ for the British judicial system.
But Mr Clarke faced pressure from his Cabinet colleagues, including Home Secretary Theresa May, to accept tougher terms.
On Tuesday he told MPs: ‘The idea that mandatory sentences now apply to certain types of offence, to young offenders, to children, to juveniles, is a bit of a leap for the British judicial system.’ But last night he said the term was necessary to ‘send out a clear message about the seriousness of juvenile knife crime’.
The knife sentences apply to any offenders who are convicted of the new offence of ‘aggravated’ knife carrying - when they used the blade to threaten or endanger life. Anyone aged 16 or 17 would face a four-month detention and training order.
The Government has already announced proposals for a mandatory six-month sentence for adults convicted of the same offence.
As well as mandatory life, Mr Clarke also announced a new ‘Extended Determinate Sentence’ that will see serious offenders required to serve at least two-thirds of their term. Currently they are released automatically at the half-way point.
It will apply to serious sex and violent crimes and jailed for four years or more. After they have served two-thirds, they will only be released when the Parole Board says they are safe to go back on the streets.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said: ‘Under our plans we expect more dangerous offenders to receive life sentences.
‘Those getting the new Extended Determinate Sentence will have to serve at least two-thirds of it behind bars before release. ‘We are clear that there will be no automatic release before the end of the full sentence for the most serious cases.’
Repeat offenders responsible for half a million crimes
Rehabilitation is a fantasy for these people. Only permanent detention can protect the community
More than half a million crimes were committed by known offenders last year, with half carried out by career criminals. The crimes were all committed by repeat offenders and included 3,400 serious violent or sexual offences. It is the first time such figures have been released and more than 270,000 offences were by criminals who had at least 25 previous convictions or cautions to their name.
Separate figures showed 134 dangerous criminals were suspected of carrying out serious further offences such as murder, rape and other violence despite being monitored by the authorities.
The figures once again raise questions over the ability of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders. Prisons minister Crispin Blunt said: “Reoffending in this country is unacceptably high and these statistics underline the urgent need for steps to reform the system and introduce a rehabilitation revolution to our prisons and community sentences.”
A total of 510,000 offences were committed in 2009 by criminals within a year of them completing a previous sentence, the Ministry of Justice figures showed. More than 10,000 burglars went on to commit another 1,800 domestic burglaries within a year, and almost 3,000 thefts.
And more than 6,000 serious violent offenders went on to commit more than 650 violent offences, 48 of which were classed as serious.
The breakdown of figures also showed that more than 8,000 sex offenders, including more than 4,000 who abused children, went on to commit more than 1,200 further sex crimes, including 330 against children.
Of the 134 dangerous or sexual offenders charged with a serious further offence last year, 26 were managed with regular multi-agency public protection (Mapp) meetings, other figures showed.
Three of these were assessed as posing the highest risk to the public and eight serious case reviews were ordered after the offenders went on to kill or rape, or tried to murder or rape, despite being monitored.
Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa) panels, which include police, councils and other Government agencies, were set up to manage the risks to the public from dangerous criminals after they leave prison.
In raft of justice statistics, it also emerged that the prison population is still on course to hit 92,000 by 2014, despite Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary’s plan to cut the population by 3,000.
However, the projections do not take in to account sentencing reform measures currently going through parliament.
It is also estimated that the summer’s riots will result in numbers behind bars increasing by 1,000 for the next 12 months.
Contempt for ordinary Australians among the self-selected arts and media elite
I SUPPOSE it takes a special form of moral courage and artistic sensibility to mount a comedy television series that "satirises people living in public housing" (The Diary, Monday). It promises to be a hoot. The individual responsible, one Paul Fenech, has uncovered "a whole bunch of people in Australia who spend so much effort not working that it would be easier to get a job". I cannot wait. Such clever japes have not been heard since the Murdoch family comedy troupe were at their peak.
It is comforting to know that Fenech is not on his own in the creative community in teaching us about the debased lower orders. Only last week, the Herald's Spectrum pages ("Career on track" October 15-16) marked the arrival of "an artist with promise", a Mr Nigel Milsom, a latter-day resident of Glebe. This chap likes to draw dogs, apparently as "metaphors for our own nature".
However, Milsom has had a nasty surprise of late. As he tells it, "it seems that every Friday and Saturday there's an influx of weirdos into the area". These freaks are the people who attend the Wentworth Park greyhounds and who do so in order to "change their lot in life" and gain a "golden ticket out of their situation". Mr Milsom knows all this because he took his crayons to the course one night and observed these worse-than-senseless things in the flesh.
In times past, these "weirdos" were actually known in and around the inner city as "residents" before the whole area was much improved by the land clearing occasioned by the arrival of sensitive and creative people who are good at colouring-in and such. Over the decades many thousands of families have been forced out, some even to public housing in the city's outskirts where Fenech can now expose to the world their essential worthlessness.
Such developments are sadly consistent with some other trends in the creative and performing arts. The television series Kath & Kim consistently depicted its subjects as crass, materialistic and emotionally stunted. There was a form of characterisation in it that provided a superior and condescending perspective for the viewer. We laugh at them; not with them.
Worse still is the work of Chris Lilley, who moves well beyond gentle mockery. His work sneers at the ordinary people with everyday lives he focuses on.
There was a time when satire was directed at exposing the follies of the privileged, the powerful and the self-important. Apparently, modern Australia has rulers who are doing a cracking job. Our rich are beyond reproach. Marie Antoinette would approve.
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.