Erosion of Common Law and Common Sense

How responsible is the EU for changes that many fear are eroding freedom of speech and expression, common law and common sense?

English: Baroness Ashton of Upholland, British...

Prime example of what the Left has wrought (*) – Image via Wikipedia

These and other questions are raised here by a UK blogger writing just months after Brussels — with breathtaking disregard for democracy — imposed unelected placemen on two sovereign member states in a desperate bid to prop up the euro.

His article, written from the perspective of a British citizen, is republished below with permission from the UK-based The Coffee House Wall blog (*)

Freedom of speech (and expression) has been under attack in this country(the United Kingdom)  for quite some time. It is difficult to put a finger, precisely, on when it began but there is no doubt that it has accelerated since 1997. At some point in New Labour’s tenure I recall Geoff Hoon on the BBC programme Question Time attempting to defend his Party’s growing reputation for authoritarianism. During his evasive dissembling he uttered that deceitful exhortation that it was unacceptable to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre – or cinema (I forget which). The expression was not new and is, I believe, linked more to the meaning of the “boy who cried wolf” than related to the articulation of sentiments that might offend some people. But very quickly it became a sort of plaster with which to patch any sore of unease at the creeping intimidation of what people were allowed – or more usually not allowed – to say. Now, even responsible politicians can be heard resorting to this dishonest term in order to justify limitations on freedom of speech and expression.

New Labour introduced the concept of hate crime to Britain, not content with laws that already protected people from the physical or mental manifestation of hate. And, as was to be expected, the vague and perhaps deliberately loose wording of these very un-British laws was soon stretched and extended to cover all sorts of incidents that might best be described as trivial. Also, they introduced the concept of subjectivity to the law, where it no longer mattered what was intended by a potential offender (the mens rea or “guilty intent”) but merely how his or her “victim” felt about it. This was layered on an already growing sensitivity to “offence”, where public figures were beginning to be excoriated for what they had said (or more often what it was reported they had said), regardless of the context or their intent. There was the growth of “outrage” response to these utterances, reported by the news media but seldom identified as to who and how many. It became conventional for those accused to resign or to be sacked and for a clamour to be set up until this happened. As public figures they were no longer entitled to private opinions – at least not to express them. And yet frequently our Prime Minister hectors us with his personal beliefs, values and causes – because he thinks they are “right” and that his office empowers him to do so.


Dictatorial democracy

Image via Wikipedia

The growing police involvement in these “crimes” coincided with a change in their approach to investigation. Previously in Britain an allegation of crime would be subject to preliminary enquiries intended to ascertain whether a crime had indeed been committed and whether there was a person who might reasonably be suspected of having committed it. At this point, according to the old “Judge’s Rules”, a constable might arrest and caution his suspect. More recently the police have begun to arrest on complaint, without any preliminary enquiries, and to conduct their investigations after the deprivation of the accused’s liberty. This sea change has not, as far as I know, been the subject of any parliamentary scrutiny or sanction, even though members of parliament have themselves been the victims of its implementation. It creates a potential avenue of vindictive attack for the malicious and malevolent to pursue as it now seems relatively easy to bring about devastating consequences for ordinary law-abiding members of the public by making false or subjective accusations and to largely escape the consequences.

Further the execution of such arrests has become more forceful, with large posses of intimidatingly dressed and equipped officers, often breaking and entering before even a demand for entry has been refused or obstructed. Why? Who sanctions this unlimited and often unnecessary use of force and on what grounds? Is it the maximum risk aversion, worse case scenario approach that now seems to guide all public sector activity? An approach once scorned as “knee jerk” but now increasingly accepted by a cowed and subservient population as the norm of official behaviour. The presumption of innocence is changing too, to one more akin to the Napoleonic code, a presumption of guilt on accusation eagerly taken up by the media and aided and abetted by the police who happily reveal the accused’s identity for pillorying in the press. No longer is “a man assisting the police with their enquiries”. It is surprising how anyone might expect a fair trial in circumstances sometimes more reminiscent of Maoist Cultural Revolution China or East Germany circa 1960. How responsible is the EU for these changes and how can they be reconciled with matters of British sovereignty, common law and consent?

Ordinary law-abiding members of the public seem to be more and more the focus of incidents where the police arrest for what has been said or even inferred. A cafe owner showing religious programmes on a TV set on his premises was warned by the police to desist as a member of the public had complained of being offended by them. In the United States the cafe owner might have argued that the programmes were an inherent aspect of his right under the First Amendment to publicly worship God in freedom and without government interference. But in Britain there is no such protection for the religious, at least not a protection which is universally conferred and, ironically, despite the laws against religious hatred introduced by New Labour. But this is precisely where hate crime and diversity can collide with a whole plethora of unintended consequences, as we see almost daily reported in the press.

The police involvement in such minor cases is both demeaning (to them) and appalling. Especially so, as far from upholding a strictly neutral rule of law, they seem more disposed to upholding a partisan political correctness, conveyed into law by the ideology of a specific political party and very selectively enforced. It is disappointing that, despite promises, the current government have failed to tackle this drift towards a politically motivated police force and that a party supposedly founded on the principles of Liberal Democracy can support legislation that is drafted so badly, imposed so unfairly and which in every way undermines basic concepts of freedom that have been happily enjoyed by British people for centuries.

New Labour’s eager legislative policy resulted in 4,289 new laws being created by January 2010, many of a type which introduced specific political elements to broader offences which were already addressed under existing laws, and some of which were unenforced. This policy was actively aided and abetted by unelected police organisations, quangos, fake charities and single issue pressure groups. And the imperative often seemed to be to legislate to coerce decent, courteous and fair behaviour (as envisaged by those on the Left) from ordinary law-abiding citizens rather than to deter or address overtly criminal behaviour – which largely continued. Imposing oppressive laws on a majority in response to the specific transgressions of a minority was the defining characteristic of their tenure. In the sledgehammer approach to the nut there was no appreciation of how such coercive legislation might alienate and make resentful a majority of people who were already decent, courteous and fair. It was the “something must be done” mentality empowered and unlimited. In that sense it reflected perfectly the tendency of the European Union, to see all progress and change advanced in terms of legislation, regulation and coercion. And all too often the majority punished for the sins of the few. The term “lawmakers” for politicians gained currency and became accepted, even though British members of parliament were supposed to represent the people in their constituencies and not just to enact legislation which increasingly controlled and interfered in their lives.

There have been concerns raised about this “creeping encroachment” and individual writers and bloggers (like Nick Cohen and Rod Liddle) have challenged it. Towards the end of the New Labour regime there was even a concerted effort to address the issue in conference by an alliance of concerned individuals and organisations. A prominent member of parliament and the shadow cabinet resigned over it. But all of this has been overshadowed by two important trends. Firstly, the broader tendency for society as a whole to accept and go along with the incremental but relentless limitations on what we can and cannot do “for our own good”, together with the acceptance of the inevitably accompanying trite platitudes such as “if you have nothing to hide” etc. Secondly, the willingness of the current government to perpetuate the status quo, to retrospectively enact new New Labour ideologically initiated law and not to reduce, limit, re-define or question the existing New Labour laws in any way – despite their promises to do so. For this alone David Cameron and Nick Clegg should be ashamed of themselves.

More recently we have seen a footballer arrested and prosecuted for words said in anger on a football pitch and a woman arrested and prosecuted for ranting almost incoherently on a bus. In both cases the official view was that such articulations were “unacceptable”. But when did “unacceptable” become criminal and who defines unacceptability and how? Subjected to incongruity in the implementation of security at the airport a writer made a facetious but perceptive and entirely natural remark. As a result he was deprived of his liberty and held by officials who insisted that he apologise for “causing offence”. The police, when called, did not take action in response to the unlawful detention but instead reinforced it. Both the security people and the police officer warned the writer that there were now things which could not be said, without telling him what they were or what offence he had committed. Instead of provoking a storm the incident was ignored by those who ought to be most concerned about it. And yet, in response to supposedly offensive writing or remarks some people are allowed to threaten violent retribution without any attention from the authorities whatsoever, not even a statement that such behaviour is “unacceptable”. All of this is being driven and managed to a specific political perspective, a specific left-wing, politically correct and divisive perspective. Far from making Britain fairer it has made it a very unfair place indeed, unless you happen to have that perspective and are perhaps making money from it. What is very strange is that the creeping encroachment is now continuing on the watch of a supposedly Conservative government, led by a Prime Minister who promised to “sweep it all away”.

As a conservative I give him fair warning. His behaviour in this matter deeply offends me and I am unlikely to vote for him or his party again.

(#) With thanks to the editor of The Coffee House Wall blog for his permission to republish.

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