As I am a keen reader, this is probably my primary hobby, I have been keen to consider the ecological impact of my pastime. I had thought that e-books might be the greenest option as they saved the trees and the water that went into making the paper counterpart. But after further reading it was clear that the situation is not as simple as this. E-books require a considerable infrastructure, as well as the manufacture of the device to read them, and also have a fairly large carbon footprint. It is sobering to think that about 10% of all the electricity used at present is used maintaining the internet’s functioning.
Fortunately, I was able to abandon my attempt to work out which book type was greener (this was proving almost impossible to ascertain) as I suddenly realised the simplest answer. The greenest book for me to read was and old paper book that was either about the house, or in the second-hand shop, as its ecological impact has already been spent when I, or someone else, first purchased it. These were now ‘waste’ and I can recycle that by reading them.
This also had a second valuable impact. I often find, when trying to decide what to read, that I get into ruts. I read similar books to ones I have just enjoyed, or I purchase something that is creating waves in the news, so I join the rut that everyone else if furrowing. If I read books I found in my own house, or in second-hand shops, my choice would be limited to what is available. It might throw me some surprises as someone else’s original choice may have been better than mine.
This is how I found this title. Nuremberg. The Facts, the Law and the Consequences.
This was published in 1947 just after the war trials and was written by Peter Calvocoressi. He had been a lawyer, and intelligence agent, who during the war had worked in Bletchley Park on the Enigma Project. After the war he had worked as a member of the British prosecution team in the war trials. The author and the timing mean the book is written with a great deal of first-hand experience and knowledge, when this knowledge was fresh and not tainted by the patina of retrospection.
It is a small unprepossessing book. Its plain maroon cover and small type face give little away but inside is a fascinating story of the development of the war trials. It is clear that the victors in the war were worried that these trials, though necessary, may be open to scrutiny as they could be seen as Victor’s Justice rather than following accepted moral principles. For example there is a chapter on the “Indicted Organisations“, as a lawyer, Calvocoressi clearly had problems with the “obvious difficulties in any allegation of guilt against a group as opposed to an individual” and this chapter is at pains to clarify why this would not occur in the Nuremberg trials. Further problems arose with the limitation of accusation to Germans. It was worried that the exclusion of the Allies was a risk, war crimes may have been committed by them too (E.g. Dresden, Hiroshima), but these were not considered. The Italians were excluded as the translation implications would have been considerable. There was concern that these exclusions may have made the War Trials open to criticism in the public arena. However, the morals and legality were openly discussed and debated. It appears that while there was an appetite for justice there was not, thankfully, and appetite for revenge and retribution at any cost. There seems to have been the recognition that, after the horror of years of war and Nazi atrocities, it was more important than ever to find universal principles of Law and Justice that we can all follow. I am glad I found this book as it would be a shame, if three generations later, we start to loose sight of these Universals, because as the author states “Principles become rusty if ignored“
My social life has changed. When I was young and energetic it often involved travel, excitement and fun. I recall evenings of humour, laughter, risks and the promise of passion. Now that I am old this has largely gone. My social events are now much more stolid and staid events. They increasingly consist of groups of people bemoaning the state of the world and the behaviour of those in it. Now I enjoy a moan and groan as much as the next carnaptious codger, and am no stranger to “in my day” or “when I was a lad” rants, but I have been rather concerned by a trend to accompany all these observations of current annoyances or inadequacies with a call to legislate against them. All problems, it seems, could be solved by a piece of legislation ; puppy farming to pollution, racist language to rioting, surly service staff to sexual impropriety, all we need to do is to draft the appropriate legislation and hey presto, problem solved. Really, there just should be a law against it!
Now I find this zeal for legislation rather strange. The people calling for these laws are clearly so upset by the behaviour that they witness that it has made them blind to the obvious. They bemoan the behaviour of others that they find shameful or abhorrent and stress that, during their lives, they have never done such a thing. That, during all the great many years they have lived, they have ensured that they never fell into such antics and there needs exist a law to protect people from making such errors. But during their illustrious lives there was no law against it. They managed to behave well without the cordon of law to protect them from error. They managed to get to late life avoiding killing, assaulting, cheating or conning their friends and family.
If they did not and had indeed lived a life of irresponsible abuse and debauchery, leaving a wake of victims and damage behind them, then perhaps we could respect their calls for new laws. If it were murderers and rapists calling for tougher legislation them perhaps their experience should guide us. If criminals start to say that an inadequacy of laws is the problem we should prick up our ears. But it is not, it is well meaning and well behaved people who are living proof that one does not need law to live well who make these statements. They managed to see actions were wrong and avoided them but feel others will not be as morally capable, as they are, and need laws to guide them. No law constrained their behaviour but others need laws to hold their desires and impulses in check.
The vast majority of us live our lives trying to live well. We try and pick a way through life which benefits us and our fellows. We have a moral code within us, of which we are to greater or lesser extent aware, which guides our actions and informs us of what we believe to be right or wrong. This internal code is in play for the vast majority of mankind for the vast majority of the time we only require the law for the very small number of times that this fails. Our internal code is much more important to us and ultimately takes priority over any law in any event. We know this code and it is always available to us, so it is this that we use as our guide. We do not use a lawbook to guide us, except when we are entering very strange and uncharted territories. We can enter into nearly all situations and deal with them if we have a clear internal moral view of the world.
Rather than making more and more calls for legislation we should look at this another way. If we feel people are prone to behaving badly we must presume that they don’t share the same code as ourselves. If they have a moral code but it differs from ours we should listen and find out why. Perhaps they are right, and it is we who need to change. (When the abolitionists or pacifists broke the laws and transgressed what was the common moral code they were not in fact wrong. The majority was in the wrong as time came to show). If it is not that they have a different code, but rather that they have no, or an inadequate code, then law is still not the answer. The answer is surely to try and rectify this deficit. But here we are in very dark and treacherous waters as we are in the area of moral instruction – teaching people, especially the young, how to be good and moral people.
In a secular society we are rather afraid of ideas like this as it carries ideas of religious authority. It is perhaps why we shy away from the idea of helping children, and others, learn what is right and what is wrong. We prefer to say that “it all depends” and there “is no absolute right or wrong” and hope that everything will work out for the best for everybody. But one could argue that a secular society need to consider moral instruction even more carefully as does not have any Divine guidance to call upon. But perhaps this is precisely why there are increasing numbers of grumpy old people collecting in groups, looking at society and lamenting the changes they see and clamouring for “a law against it”. Perhaps I must blame this change for my poorer social life.
It we want a better world we need better people. If we act by making more and more of our moral code external to us (by defining it in law) our own moral faculties will atrophy and weaken through disuse. We should aim to make ourselves better as individuals so there is less need for law rather than allow our baser natures to be our guide and relying on other to keep us in check by regulation as this is the way to totalitarianism and there can be no law against that!
This week Denmark’s parliament voted to pass a law which effectively bans Muslim women wearing either the Burqa or Niqab in public places. In this they have joined a number of other European countries in introducing such a ban ; France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have similar bans, or partial bans, in some areas. The reasons given for these bans, including the most recent one, is always the apparently sensible need to have an uncovered face during some interactions for security or clarity of communication. However, despite the protestations that these bans are not aimed at the Muslim populations particularly it is clear that this is not the case.
The Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen was quite clear that he though these aspects of religious observance by Muslims were not welcome in Denmark when, in 2010, he said
“the burqa and the niqab do not have their place in the Danish society. They symbolize a conception of the woman and of the humanity to which we are fundamentally opposed and that we want to fight in the Danish society,”
I also think it is unlikely that any undecided voters could have mistaken the intention behind the poster used by the Danish Peoples’ Party who supported a stronger version of the law, including prison sentences, which quite clearly has Muslim women in its sights :-
It is clear that, despite all the protestations that these laws and bans are in place to improve communication and safety and that they have no particular religion in mind, these laws all stem from a desire to make life difficult for Muslim women in these countries. It is disingenuous to say otherwise and to try and present them acts of a liberal society.
Across Europe there have been many changes to societies and these have included the effects of mass migration. Cultures which were previously Christian now find themselves largely secular and populations which were previously homogenous are now much more mixed. While there are aspects of these changes which are welcomed and beneficial there are also many aspects which people find disadvantageous and worrisome. This is particularly so to the elderly and the working class.
The elderly see the erosion of faith and religion in their culture and the growth of new, and strange, faiths. Often these religions appear hostile to each other. The well published wars raging in the middle-east and the importation of terrorism to European cities will cause, more than just the elderly, to become fearful. And in this regard the term islamophobia may be correct, they do fear the growth of Islam, and are not reassured when they see the persecution of Christians in the Middle East or local police activity oin their capitals.
The working class believe mass migration has allowed their wages to be undercut and living standards to fall and made them fear for their and their families future. In times of stress they see their welfare states failing to meet the demands placed upon it and start to question whether it is being spread too thinly. Welfare states survive because we all feel “we are all in it together”, it is the governmental form of our collective identity, and it operates best when people feel a sense of social cohesion. We all want the best for our neighbours as we can understand them and their predicaments. However, as societies become increasingly diverse that cohesion is loosened and the willingness to share with those we don’t recognise as “like us” is reduced.
These groups, and others, think on the group level. They think about “them” not about the individual, not about their specific neighbour, not about A’ishah and Zarif and their kids next door. The more people know people from other cultures the less they fear them. Those who report the most hostility to strangers are those who have the least interactions with them. It is true to say that those living in the very diverse cities tend to have less xenophobic feelings to those living in small rural backwaters.
Day to day, first hand experience, does a great deal to counter prejudice and bigotry. Knowledge is the best antidote ignorance and the best source of knowledge is communication. Unfortunately communication in this particular area has been bvery poor. The major migration shifts were never discussed and now the problems people perceive, rightly or wrongly, are not discussed either. When attempts have been made to question aspects of migration which are seen to be adverse all too often the response has been to shut the debate down with cries that “You can’t say that. You are being racist“. While this does effectively shut down conversation it does not sort the problem. Those with concerns still have concerns but now know they are not allowed to discuss them. They know that they are no longer seen as part of polite society.
Unable to discuss their concern they have to try new strategies. They switch from unacceptable concerns (“I’m worried about my job prospects”, “I worry there are not enough maternity beds”) to proxy concerns “I think it is terrible the way these womens’ faces are covered” which allows them to attack the group without appearing to do so. This is what is happening with these clothing bans, although with very little that obscures the true intention.
As an aside, a further danger of this refusal to discuss these concerns, is that it actually creates the problem that is feared. If someone can’t discuss their worries, and feels they are defined as a racist for doing so, may come to think “I’m as well hung for a sheep as a lamb” and start listening to those who wish to foment racial tensions and divides. Much of the success of Brexit, Trump, and the populist parties in Europe can be seen as a popular response to a ruling class which will not honestly debate concerns – they are then forced to listen.
I fear that this Danish ban, and the others preceding it, are signs of the tension that arises from problems with our social cohesion. The European Court of Human Rights has allowed these bans as they (Denmark, Belgium, France) stating that it is reasonable to infringe the individual’s right or religious freedom for the sake of “living together” and “community values”. The hallmark of a tolerant society is that it people live together despite having different views of the world and different habits and behaviours. A tolerant society is one in which the minority is tolerated and not forced to bend to fit the majority’s wishes. The EHCR ruling flies in the face of basic Human Rights by supporting the idea that some individual human rights can be jettisoned for the benefit of the greater good. This approach is always fine when you are one of the majority. Those who support this strategy should consider their future. Their delight at banning the burqa might in hindsight seem misguided, if (although unlikely) 50 years from now the majority population were Islamic. Sometimes our mistakes are much clearer in retrospect.
This ban will also fail to do what we need. We need more integration and this only comes from communication. As we intermingle and interact with others we learn of each others beliefs and opinions. Through this we adopt and change, we integrate. Over time cultures live side by side and benefit equally from each other. I look at the many Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other who are fully integrated members of my community. Certainly they practice a different religion but otherwise you could not tell them form any other member of our society. They are shopkeepers, doctors, plumbers, taxi drivers, neighbours, friends and , increasingly, family much more than they are Jews or Bhuddist or whatever.
These bans push us apart and cause us to see others as “them”. It increases the divides between us and increases the fears and worries that are there. If we really were worried about the woman’s role in Islam this is completely the wrong way to proceed. An observant woman is not going to abandon her faith just because of an ill-thought law. This law may mean that the woman doesn’t venture out now in public places and be less influenced by aspects of our culture which promote female equality and liberation. It may keep her in the home, where she is much more so under the influence of her cultural leaders. If we really wish to help woman relinquish the burqa the way to do so is by showing that living a good and moral life without is entirely possible and discussing the issue. Unfortunately you are unlikely to discuss things with people who seem to be attacking you.
You can not compel someone into a religion. Obedience is not observance. If we wish to see religious and moral beliefs change it will occur by example. By showing that an open culture is a successful culture, by showing that equality and religion and good bed-fellows, people may start to think. If your moral beliefs and religious ideals are superior to others then your life and actions will showcase them. You will become the example and encourage others to follow. Many people come to Europe because it is a liberal and tolerant culture. We must display that tolerance and openness if we want it to continue. This is especially important at times when we feel uncertain or afraid, it is when we are tested that our true metal is revealed. If we think freedom and religious expression are important we need to defend them. Not just for ourselves but also for others.
I sometimes fear that we will need to radically rewrite our dictionaries in the near future as so many of our words are dropping their old, negative definitions for new, positive and winsome meanings. It is not, for example, unusual to hear a phrase such as “go on, indulge yourself, you deserve it” on an advert on the television. The modern use of indulge is the components of luxury or tolerance. Any former ideas of postponement of a debt or deferment of a sin has largely been lost. Similarly words such as “pride“, which was previously something to be avoided, as one of the seven deadly sins, are now seen as positive attributes to one’s character.
Common words such as health can come to mean their opposite when allied with the word “mental”. It is not unusual to hear he suffered with “mental health” (instead of illness) and “we are all affected by mental health” (When unfortunately this is not the case and many of us suffer with mental illness). I fear the stigma associated with mental illness is so great that people are even fearful of saying the word and will try all forms of verbal gymnastics to avoid it.
It is to be expected that words change their meaning over time as fashions and social mores change. In an increasingly secular world it is not surprising that many words which previously had a religious connotation are now pressed into service for more profane uses. As our technology and lives change we need words to communicate our new circumstances and it makes sense to bring older antiquated words out of retirement and disuse, and dust them off, before pressing them into use in contemporary conversations. Although I am a bit of a pedant, and I do like the original meaning of words recalled, I am happy to see drifts and changes in the language allowing us to communicate freely. I would not wish to think that words should be preserved in aspic as this is a sure route to the demise of conversation and understanding.
However, there are some words which are so important in the meaning they bestow that they should only be misused with great care. In his excellent novel ‘1984’ George Orwell reminded us of the power of words, and in particular the power of words when misused to entrap and imprison us. Big Brother altered the meanings many words, through the development of Newspeak , as they were aware this was a source of political power. Nowadays, it seems that we are rapidly learning Newspeak and words such as sexcrime and crimethink seem very prescient.
Two such words are ‘Shame’ and the related word ‘Guilty’. Shame used to mean the painful emotion we felt when we were aware that we had not lived up to our standards, when we experienced feelings of guilt or disgrace because we had behaved badly and to a level below the standards to which we hold ourselves. Shame is increasing being used as a verb meaning to make someone feel ashamed and often tagged onto a preceding word – fat shaming, slut shaming, body shaming, and so on. However, it is often the case that it was not shame that was sought but rather advice which was offered. It is no great surprise that the commonest people responsible for fat shaming are family members and doctors, people who have a vested interest in aiding someone who is obese or overweight and are least likely to wish to insult or distress them. People are not trying to shame someone but rather to advise or counsel them. It is true that we wish to avoid or get rid of shame, but not by banning the attribution, but rather by living and behaving in such a way that we do not feel ashamed by our actions.
This current strategy seeks to put the distress on the person who notices the sub-standard behaviour rather then on the person who has fallen short of their own standards. If I am happy with my behaviour and feel it accords with my view of what is right and proper, it does not matter one iota how you criticise me, I will feel no shame. I can only feel shame when I fall below my expectations not yours. I can only feel shame when I agree I am in the wrong, if I disagree I feel wronged or misunderstood not ashamed. You cannot shame me unless I share your thought that I have done something wrong.
‘Guilty‘, however, is the word being treated in the most egregious manner. In our connected and on-line world it has almost come to be synonymous with ‘accused’ . Previously there was a chain of events – an accusation was made, an assessment of the facts undertaken, all parties explained their actions and finally, after consideration, someone was either found “Guilty” or remained Innocent. This is what would be loosely called “due process“. To be guilty of some wrong deed is to be found responsible and culpable and is a major step, a step all civilised societies have found should only be taken after due process.
The nightmare of living in states where an accusation is all that is required to make one guilty is well known and is the hallmark of the totalitarian and barbarian. Over the millennia we, as a species, have learnt that it is vital that people should have the presumption of innocence and we should only call people ‘Guilty’ after a rigorous and fair examination of the fact. Too often today, in cases of child abuse or sexual abuse, people are quick to name someone as Guilty before due process has been had. On social media and the internet many are happy to condemn people as guilty without an exploration of the facts. Campaigns are often mounted to shout the word “Guilty” to the world before any trial of the evidence has taken place. The campaigns accuse and the media condemns before any justice can be obtained.
This often occurs in the most heinous of accusations (child abuse, rape, etc) but it is because these are the most disgusting and dreadful acts that it is especially important to ensure due process. While we must do everything possible to find those that commit these acts, hold them culpable, and punish them, we must be careful that we do not punish the innocent. To label an innocent party guilty of acts such as these is a crime on a par of severity with the acts themselves. Although it may be difficult to swallow, especially at times when the desire for revenge is high, but Blackstone’s Formulation is a true foundation for a safe and civilised society :-
“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“
When we interfere with this viewpoint we place everyone in danger. No-one would be able to sleep at night if all it took to become guilty was that someone accused you. What about the snubbed friend, the disgruntled employee, the querulous neighbour ? Our innocence is a precious thing and should not be able to be tarnished without very good cause.
That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.
Perhaps we should not feel surprised when we discover that a politician’s computer has been used to view pornography. Possibly we could feel disappointed but hardly surprised. It is unreasonable to expect that politicians are free of the vices to which the rest of us are prey. I accept that, if a politician has spent a career promoting chastity and moral virtue, then the discovery of a habit of viewing pornography may allow us genuine surprise at the discovery of their hypocrisy and deceit. But the simple fact that politicians may be lazy, or obese, or smokers, like the rest of us should really upset no-one; one would have to be very naïve to believe that they are very much superior to the rest of us. Like the rest of us they will be on tenterhooks when their browsing history is being reviewed by the computer repairman, their boss, or the police.
In the UK there are the beginnings of a scandal as retired policemen, Neil Lewis and Bob Quick, revealed that they had seen pornographic images on the cabinet minister Damian Green’s computer during an investigation into a cabinet leak in 2008. There is no reason to believe that any legal action was intended regarding these images they were simply discovered in the process of seeking evidence about the cabinet leak. These images, if they were present, were an unrelated find, so why have they been brought to the fore now ?
It is clear that there is a history between Bob Quick and Damian Green. Bob Quick had to issue a public apology, and resign, 8 years ago after he had made unfounded accusations of impropriety about Damian Green. There is a danger that this recent revelation may simply be the an old battle being fought on new fields. But there is a further, more worrisome, aspect of this.
When police work with us to prosecute crime we cooperate as we wish the guilty to be found and the truth established. We give over aspects of our privacy to enable this. If I was mugged while out walking one evening and the police, during their investigations, found I was not with my wife, it would not be reasonable for them to disclose this aspect and jeopardise my marriage. If they coincidentally find a crime, then so be it, but my private life is my own and this should be respected. If this respect is not given then I might be rather reluctant to contact the police if the victim of a crime for fear that I might be forced to reveal details of my life I wish to keep secret.
When I worked as a doctor I routinely asked patients about many aspects of their life, experiences, habits and opinions. This helped me form a diagnosis and to formulate a plan of treatment with them. However, I was bound by a contract of secrecy, and an professional oath, never to divulge this information. This information was only given to aid the treatment of the patient. If patients felt that they could not trust me to keep their privacy then fear and shame would certainly deter many people from seeking help. This contract is rightly inflexible and persist after my retirement to until my death.
Police are in a privileged position in our society, they can on occasion gain access to our private lives but they only gain this access with the contract that they can not disclose details found which are not related to a crime. If we can not trust this then we will be unable to work cooperatively with the police. If we fear that they may use information they collect for their own ends and advantage (such as settling political scores) then we can not be expected to share information with them.
Damian Green obviously has his problems at the moment as he is being investigated for “inappropriate behaviour towards a female activist” but this should be dealt with appropriately and not taken as a opportunity to refight old battles. He may well have to ‘fall on his sword’ for these present accusations, but more importantly the policemen who have breached the trust given to them, and broken their contract of privacy with us, should be investigated and if found guilty punished. The police can not see themselves as the law, nor as being above it, they are simply its agents.
It is gingerly, and with a great deal of trepidation, that I write today’s post. I have been struck by the awfulness of Carl Sargeant’s death on Tuesday when it appears he took his life after having been accused of misbehaviour and having lost his government position. Now, I don’t have any great affection for politicians and did not know a great deal about Mr Sargeant before this event so why has his apparent suicide affected me ?
Firstly because it is a very obvious reminder of the terrible damage we are doing to our society and the rule of law by the ongoing hysteria in the media about sexual abuse and politicians. Clearly I would want to see any politician, of any hue, who abused any other person dealt with and punished appropriately. The promise of power and influence, that the world of politics offers, means that it will attract more than an average amount of psychopathic individuals. Therefore it is quite reasonable that we may find an above average number of people who are guilty acts of abuse in our governmental bodies. But, equally clearly, I only want guilty people punished and shamed. This distinction is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society where rules are just and punishment only justly applied when it is warranted.
One of the earliest legal treatises was the Mishneh Torah which was an attempt codify the bases of Jewish Law. In the early attempt to tease out guiding principles for a fair and just society the great philosopher Maimonides wrote :-
“It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”
as he was aware that to do otherwise was the start of a slippery slope which lead to a lawless and unjust society where conviction, not being based on an adequate burden of proof, could lead to punishment on the basis of a whim of courts and rulers. This has also been referred to as Blackstone’s Formulation after he stated “All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer“.
This principle should be considered alongside another, related legal principle, that is, the presumption of innocence. All legal systems hold this principle dear. Roman law states “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), and Islamic law, Common Law and the Civil Law all carry this basic tenet. As the public puts it “Innocent until proven guilty“. This is a principle that keeps you and I safe : we can only fall foul of the law, and be punished, if we are found guilty after trail not simply by accusation.
In the Carl Sargeant case he was treated as if her were guilty before he had a hearing. He lost his position and was treated by Carwyn Jones, The First Minister of Wales, as if the accusations were true. This is the habit, increasingly popular, of jumping to the conclusion that accusations are truth. It is this approach which underpins such campaigns as #IBelieveHer. Now it is understandable that we want to increase the justice for those who are victims of any form of abuse but this strategy is very dangerous. If we believe the accusers without question what is the need for a trial ? If we believe the accusers then the only thing missing is retribution. This leads us to a very dark place where people can be destroyed by malicious accusations.
This photograph, might explain my concerns about this. This is a group of Welsh special advisors out for the evening celebrating on the night that they had just started the ball rolling on the case against Carl Sargeant. These are the expressions just after they have opened the floodgates of innuendo and suspicion. A colleague and erstwhile friend has been thrown to the dogs and this photograph reveals their feelings that very evening. When accusation becomes proof, accusations become dangerous and powerful political weapons which some people seem to enjoy using.
This is not the only legal principle that was ignored in Carl Sargeant’s case. He was never given details of the accusations nor knowledge of who his accusers were. Again in English Law, Roman Law, and also the Sixth Amendment of the United States this is a ignoring a cornerstone of justice. In the Bible, when Paul was accused, it was described thus :-
“It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”
If one does not know the accusations, nor your accuser, you are effectively denied the opportunity to defend yourself. If you can not defend yourself you cannot receive justice. It has long been known that ignoring this principle would lead to injustice and would facilitate terror. The oppressive, nightmarish qualities we try to explain when we use the term “Kafkaesque” , relate to being on trial but ignorant of your accusers and their claims as so well described nn Kafka’s novel Der Process (The Trial). Secret accusations, secret courts and clandestine meetings have always been the way of the power hungry who wish to subvert justice. In this particular case it seems that it has gone further than this as there were also meetings with the accusers when their stories were discussed with all the risks of contaminating evidence of any wrong doing. This is very reminiscent of the history of the Stasi, or the Gestapo, collecting accusations so that they might prove useful against political enemies in power struggles at a future date
Carl Sargeant did not know of what he was accused nor do we. We know that it could not have been sufficient to warrant police involvement. It is likely that it was behaviour that is deemed inappropriate in our present moral climate. He might have behaved in a manner more in tune with an older generation than the present. If this is the case then it is probable that a further legal principle is in the process of being ignored – we can only be tried for offences against the rules that applied at the time. Guilt can not be backdated. If tomorrow they pass a law outlawing drinking alcohol on Sundays, it is this principle which protects me against them coming and punishing me for last Sunday’s drinking. I am obliged to follow the law as it is just now, not as how it might be in the future. Without this principle we could all be facing punishment in the future for some act which is not a crime at present – did you spank your child ? Did you smoke in a public place ? etc etc. The same guideline should be used when we consider social mores and customs.
For all these reasons the story of Carl Sargeant is a sad and worrisome tale. He did not receive fair justice and now never can. We will never know the truth of these accusations as they can not be tested now that he has died, so justice will never be served. These principles are not minor bureaucratic foibles but are the foundations of our enlightened society. For the sake of all those black men lynched in the South in America, denied a trial and presumed guilty on the words of their accusers, we must fight for these principles. For the sake of all the women accused of witchcraft and killed never able to confront their accusers we need to remember how important these principles continue to be. For the sake of the very many women who are going to be accused of adultery, or other crimes in the middle east, and face death just on the basis of an accusers word we need to promote these ideas and promote civilisation.
Carl Sargeant worked hard for his community and tried to improve the world by his work in politics, I hope now that he can rest in peace. Hopefully his family will also find peace and perhaps, in time, they may see that his sad death contributed to a turning point when society turned its back on hysteria and witch hunting.
These documentaries are the stuff of modern horror movies. Innocents are wrongfully convicted of child sexual abuse and incarcerated and mistreated. No matter what evidence they provide to show their accusers wrong, no matter what lies and falsehoods they can reveal, the legal machinery rolls on as they see the world of reason, logic and justice desert them as they descend further and further into their nightmare.
This time it concerns four women from San Antonia. They did nothing out of the ordinary, tried to be helpful and good, but despite this were wrongfully convicted on the gang-rape of two of their nieces. Their only crime was to be homosexual at a time when bigotry against homosexuals still was a powerful force in the legal department and media, and to have been young lesbians at the time that fears of satanic cults were deranging the logic of the public and professions alike.
While it is distressing to watch these events unfold and one feels ashamed to be complicit in a society which treats people like this; there is a positive side. The strength of character of these women, who fought on for their exoneration, and defied the system’s attempts to destroy them, is rewarding to watch. To know that some of us, in the face of dreadful adversity, can still act with integrity and dignity allows you to retain some respect for humanity.
It is a shame that we still periodically have to rely on films like this or others (Capturing the Friedmans, The Thin Blue Line, etc) to correct our legal mistakes. But hopefully these films will increase awareness of the dangers of blind faith in the legal system and its agents and perhaps make errors like these less likely to happen.
It seemed apt that the Daily Prompt today was irksome as, like many others in the UK (and probably the majority), I had been feeling irked by the success of the legal challenge raised against aspects of the process of Brexit. I say irked, as opposed to irate or enraged, as this is a minor, and possibly inevitable and necessary, annoyance.
Why am I not enraged alongside many in the media ? Because this is haggling over minor details and unlikely to do more than cause a minor delay in the triggering of Article 50. Yes, I agree that it is having an adverse effect on the economy by extending the period of doubt and uncertainty – we have seen the effects of this already on the effect on the FTSE. Further, yes, I agree that will weaken Britain’s bargaining hand when they negotiate in Europe – it will be difficult to present a strong and resolute front when the negotiators on the other side of the table know there is so much friction and uncertainty at home.
However, these are small issues compared to the issues of democracy and sovereignty. It was these major issues on which the Brexit campaign was fought and won. I know that many feel that parliament handed authority back to the people when it agreed to a plebiscite. With a referendum the normal mechanics of representative democracy are changed to permit an episode of direct democracy. However, it appears that the wording of the Act was not sufficient to ensure this in law, leaving the referendum with an ‘advisory’ status despite the statements made that its results would be binding. We now need to amend this error. We will do this and then move on. While doing so we should ensure we do not damage our democratic institutions, it was for these that we fought. Any righteous anger that an error was made, or that we were mislead, should be kept in check. We should be careful that we do no win the war and lose the peace.
So, if this is only tidying up a minor legal error, why is it even irritating or irksome ? It is irksome because it was not necessary. No-one was acting with malevolent intention by planning to use the Crown Prerogative (which had been used to usher in much of the EU legislation before – it could have been a delightful irony). The government was not planning anything underhand but rather trying to deliver what it thought it had promised. It is irksome not because of the governments actions but because the actions of those who brought the legal challenge acted in bad faith. They had no desire to fine tune the legal process of Brexit they wished to impede or halt it.
Gina Miller, who raised this challenge (Along with the Orwellian doublespeak group ‘The Peoples’ Challenge’), was a remainer who described herself as “stunned”, “shocked” and “alarmed” by the results of the referendum. She was thus galvanised to to do something about it, to try and subvert the results of the democratic process by legal pettifogging. This subversion will have some negative impacts, but in the greater scale of things their effects will likely be minor. She did not act to protect our sovereignty nor to promote democracy, she, and they, acted to thwart the choice made by the majority of those who voted and to try and stem the transfer of powers back to Westminster. They used the powers we have to keep us weaker but it will be in vain. Once the people have spoken their words can not be unsaid and, after jumping some legal hurdles, Article 50 will be triggered and the process started.
However, if I am wrong, if I have misjudged the situation and predicted wrongly, then I may be using the wrong word by saying it is “irksome”. If, albeit very unlikely, the House of Commons stood in the way of the expressed will of the people then irksome would be the wrong word. Or, if the un-elected House of Lords decided, like suicidal lemmings, to reject the results of the referendum and enforce their greater authority on the people, then irked would not be the appropriate word.
Should frankly anti-democratic steps such as those be taken then much stronger adjectives will be needed. Perhaps furious, enraged or livid might be more appropriate. However, even in the Daily Prompt proffers these words as cues it is unlikely I will see them as I, alongside many others, will not be at our screens but out on the streets.
Peter Tatchell has form as being a clear thinker and one who is able to see through the morass of argument and counter argument to see the moral principles at the core of current debates. therefore when he announces that he has changed his opinion on an issue we should pay heed. He has changed his mind over the issue of the Christian bakers and the gay wedding cake. He had previously supported the penalization of the Christian bakers Ashers, in Belfast, who had refused to bake a wedding cake which had a pro-gay marriage slogan. However, Mr Tatchell has argued in a piece in the Guardian that, while it is correct to oppose discrimination against people it is wrong to take legal action against the discrimination against ideas.
He is of course correct; our freedom to think as we will is the greatest right we have. It should not be constrained by any agencies. While some of our acts may be considered unlawful none of our thoughts should be. As Mr Tatchell recognizes, there was no discrimination against the claimants per se, rather the Ashers had refused to promote an idea to which they objected. If the current court ruling stands, the logic is that it would be illegal for a Muslim printer to reject work printing posters with comic portrayals of Mohammed, or for a Jewish baker to reject making a cake with holocaust denial slogans.
Obviously this case was not brought following any genuine act of discrimination and true feeling of hurt. The cake was designed and offered to a Christian bakery quite deliberately to try and create a legal case in the hope that this would shift and move the law. The intention, no doubt, was to try to make society less bigoted by using the law to signpost good behaviour. However, the law of unintended consequences should never be forgotten. It is precisely minorities who benefit most from recognition of the rights to freedom of thought and freedom of association. These are the rights that protect them from the majority’s desire to compel good and appropriate behaviour as society currently defines it. We must reject attempts to interfere with these freedoms no matter how well intentioned they may appear to be.