Thursday, November 21, 2002

Shoppers spend like no tomorrow

Shoppers are engaged in a spending spree financed largely by borrowing, laments Reuters. They must have been reading this site.

Foreign police on UK soil

Foreign police will be granted the full powers of the British constabulary while in England, under new government proposals to enter the Schengen Agreement. The Crime (International Co-operation) Bill will ensure that a foreign police officer will be "treated as if he were acting as a constable in the execution of his duty". This includes powers of stop and search and arrest, as well as the terrifying panoply of new powers recently announced.

Before the current government, the exclusive right to exercise coercive force over a citizen was the jealously guarded sovereign right of the British State. "Modernising reforms" that made the Crown the sole source of powers of arrest were enacted by Henry VII in the 1480s, to eradicate abuses by overlords who placed a desire for public order above the civil liberties of English citizens.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

"Prove you didn't rape her!"

The law on rape is to be changed to a presumption of guilt in an effort to secure more convictions. The government believes that juries acquit too many rapists because they can't be sure that the woman didn't consent to having sex, so it is legislating to make the man prove his innocence.

Under legislation planned for the next Parliamentry session, men accused of rape will have to prove they took all reasonable steps to establish that consent was given. Simply believing that the woman consented, however genuinely, will not be enough.

The new policy is intended to reverse the position women are in today: many women find that it is impossible to prove guilt when it's her word against his. In future, a man accused of rape will find it similarly difficult to prove his innocence.

No sex please, you're drunk

Another reform in the Sexual Offences Bill will be to remove women's right to consent to sex if they are intoxicated or asleep. Statutory rape (sex that is deemed to be rape even though both parties say they consent) currently only applies to sex with children.

It is not yet clear how drunk a woman has to be before sex with her becomes statutory rape, but it appears that the relevent factor will be her actual level of intoxication rather than the belief or understanding of the man. If so, an encounter where both parties are drunk or drugged would constitute rape despite both parties being too drunk to remember that "Yes means no".

"Gimme the money"

Prosecutions are of course unlikely without the woman's support, even if it can be shown that she was drunk. However, if the woman subsequently regrets having sex, she will be able to bring a charge of rape by saying that her willing participation isn't legally relevent. This could occur not just following an immediate complaint; a complaint (and subsequent charges) might not be made until the later breakdown of the relationship, even years after the event. One wonders whether the threat of this will become a significant factor in acrimonious divorce proceedings.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Police to fingerprint general public

Police are to be given powers to fingerprint members of the general public under forthcoming legislation. Currently fingerprints can only be taken from suspects charged with a crime: allowing police to compel fingerprints from those not charged will enable them to build up a national fingerprint database of the general public.

Arrest without charge to rise to 36 hours

The length of time citizens can be held under arrest by police without even being charged with an offence is to rise to 36 hours under under new legislation, reports the Daily Telegraph. Currently police must charge or release suspects after 24 hours in captivity.

The increased length of imprisonment for those "helping police with their enquiries" is to be used against those suspected of relatively low-level crimes (like mugging), not just the most serious offences (like murder).

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Private Finance Initiative costs £1billion - in lawyer's fees

The off-balance-sheet accounting scam that is PFI has cost £1billion since 1997 in fees to lawyers, accountants and management consultants. The left-wing Labour Research Department looked at more than 50 PFI projects, and found that each new hospital costs £3million for the lawyers &co., while the London Underground has sucked up £400million of taxpayer's money.

Helmets for footballers

Neurologists are calling upon the Football Association to make footballers wear protective headgear, following a coroner's decision that former England international Jeff Astle was killed by dementia caused by head the ball.

Regulation doubles holes in the road

The number of applications to dig roles in the road nearly doubled this year in Westminster, as contractors skip around regulations designed to reduce them. New legislation allows local councils to fine contractors if they are late completing road works; the contractors solution is to dig more, smaller holes that can be filled in if work falls behind schedule. Gaps between work on each hole increases congestion and damages the road.

Judge needs grandchild license

A High Court judge needed a license from the local Council to take his granddaughter abroad. Despite having the consent of both of the 13-year-old's parents, Buckinghamshire County Council officers insisted on him completing several forms and presenting himself for interview. The license was required because the girl was to attend a European film studio, where she is acting in a forthcoming film.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Wrongly jailed for 25 years

A man wrongly convicted of murder has been freed after 25 years in jail. The police detective who fabricated his confession was jailed for corruption and perverting the course of justice in 1983. This didn't prompt a review of the safety of his conviction, and ten years later Home Office refused to refer the case for appeal in 1993.

Richard Brown, now 44, had been told in 1988 he could be freed on parole on condition that he admitted his guilt. He continued to protest his innocence, and standing by this principle cost him another 14 years.

At his trial critical forsensic evidence was withheld from the defence: a fibre from the victims coat was found on the jacket of the alternative suspect, but the defence were never told.

Without a real confession, and with key forensic evidence against the prosecution, it seems probable that Mr Brown was wholly innocent of the crime. Lord Justice Rose admitted that a jury might have acquitted had they been told the whole truth.

Leaving court Mr Brown said "It has been like living in an abyss of hell. I would have fought this for the next 25 years if I had to.”

He continued "I feel I have been raped of my entire life and my humanity. The only thing I was left with at times was my self-belief; knowing I did not kill Annie Walsh."

The destruction of this innocent man's life acts as a grim warning against the government's policy of "rebalancing the criminal justice system" to make convictions easier, but even less safe.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

London motorists to be tracked each day

Mayor Ken Livingstone has admitted that the congestion charge will mean motorists will be closely followed by CCTV cameras on their journeys through London. Individual journey patterns will be recorded and analysed in an effort to catch charge-dodgers.

The congestion charge, centre-piece of the Mayor's transport policy, will impose a £5 daily charge on anyone driving in central London. Residents within the central zone and the disabled will be offered a discount rate. The new policy comes into force on Februrary 17th 2003.

Until now, the Mayor has loudly insisted that the new tax will not be used to infringe on privacy, and promised that journeys will not be traced. However, he has now admitted to The Times that individual journey patterns will be analysed to trap non-residents applying for the residential discount. Anyone applying for the discount will have to sign a waiver for their rights under the Data Protection Act, which would otherwise protect them from such an invasion of privacy.

Criminal justice in Triple Jeopardy

In a triple whammy attack on civil liberties, the government today confirmed that the 800-year old law precluding double jeopardy is to be scrapped, and gossip ("hearsay evidence") is to become admissible in court, and juries will be told about previous convictions.

The announcements were made in the Queen's Speech, the formal announcement to Parliament of the government's legislative agenda for the coming year.

To protect against citizens facing endlessly repeated trials for the same offence, for 800 years the prosecution has been allowed only a single bite at the cherry. This forces prosecutors to try really hard to get it right first time, and protects innocent suspects from further legal harassment. This rule is known as the "double jeopardy rule" because it promises that "a citizen's life, liberty and property shall not twice be placed in jeopardy for the same offence".

The double jeopardy rule has been such an important part of British civil liberties that it has been adopted throughout the English-speaking world and the former British empire, and is one of the rights enshrined in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Gossip in court

The government also announced legislation to treat gossip as if it were proper evidence in court cases.

So-called "hearsay evidence" is where the witness testifies that someone told them a thing had happened. "Witness evidence", by contrast, means that the person that claims a thing happened must face the court and give their account. This provides a proper opportunity for cross-examination, and a real chance to assess the reliability of the witness and their story.

"Hearsay evidence" is banned in criminal trials to prevent people being convicted on the basis of gossip. Traditionally, it is thought that if the prosecution believe the gossip, the least they can do is present the proof that it is true. The introduction of "hearsay evidence" would relieve prosecutors of that burden.

Repeat convictions

New legislation has been announced to let prosecutors tell juries about the suspect's previous convictions. Previously, this information was withheld from the jury, as the jury is supposed to reach a verdict solely on the evidence about the crime in question.

The rule preventing prosecutors telling the jury about previous convictions is designed to prevent juries deciding that the suspect "probably" committed the offence, since he'd committed other similar offences in the past. It was thought that the reasoning "He's a thief, so he probably stole this too" isn't a safe basis for conviction, and that the prosecution ought to be made to prove their case before the citizen is thrown in gaol.

Once the jury has reached a verdict, the judge has always been told about previous convictions, so that more severe penalties can be imposed upon repeat offenders.

Another reason for withholding details of previous convictions from juries is for fear that they might not care so much about the standard of proof if they knew the accused had previous convictions, deciding that "even if he didn't do this crime he probably deserves it anyway".

The new legislation will allow prosecutors to tell juries about convictions for similar offences. The government wants to "rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim". It doesn't explain how more unsafe convictions help the victim though, and seems to forget that convicting the innocent also means letting the guilty go free.