We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]


The Kaffirs believed that all kinds of misfortunes came upon them through wizards and witches, and every tribe had a “witch-finder,” whose duty it was to “smell out” these witches. When any misfortune came upon them, the tribe was called together. Then the witch doctor, fearfully painted and adorned with all kinds of terrible savage grandeur, rushed about among them. Trembling and anxious, the people stood waiting, each man knowing that his life was unsafe, until the witch doctor, pointing to one among them, accused him of being the cause of all the trouble. Then the poor wretch, who had no more to do with it than you or I, was seized, tortured, and killed without more ado.

– H.E. Marshall in Our Empire Story (1908)

Procedural aspects of trials for political offences (such as espionage, subversion, terrorist acts, and treason) leave even more to be desired. The court may try the case in camera, may refuse to call witnesses for the accused, may receive the testimony of witnesses not present in court, may use unpublished evidence in reaching its verdict, and may cut off argument for the accused or deny him counsel entirely. Explicit provision is made for trial without the participation of the accused” and with no right of appeal. Procedural norms in such cases are observed only in “demonstration trials” where the fate of the accused is decided beforehand and the trial is held exclusively for propaganda purposes.

– Robert M Weiss reviewing Soviet Millitary Law and Administration by HM Berner & M Kerner (1957)

So the fault is not with our services or, in this instance, with the Home Office. We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first.

I happen to believe this is misguided and wrong. If a foreign national comes here, and may be at risk in his own country, we should treat him well. But if he then abuses our hospitality and threatens us, I feel he should take his chance back in his own home country.

As for British nationals who pose a threat to us, we need to be able to monitor them carefully and limit their activities. It is true that the police and security services can engage in surveillance in any event. But this is incredibly time-consuming and expensive, and even with the huge investment we have made since 2001, they simply cannot do it for all suspects. Over the past five or six years, we have decided as a country that except in the most limited of ways, the threat to our public safety does not justify changing radically the legal basis on which we confront this extremism.

Their right to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgement. This extremism, operating the world over, is not like anything we have faced before. It needs to be confronted with every means at our disposal. Tougher laws in themselves help, but just as crucial is the signal they send out: that Britain is an inhospitable place to practise this extremism.

– Tony Blair, in The Sunday Times (2007)

The Prime Minister read jurisprudence at the University of Oxford. What do you mean, you can
not tell?

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10 comments to Hearsay

  • Elijah

    I guess he’s no Robert Peel is he?

    What a moron. Leave LE to the experts.

  • Julian Taylor

    Their right to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgment.

    All I can say is thank God the man is leaving office.

  • guy herbert

    Gotta love that bizarre paragraphing, though.

    I wonder who spotted that the natural division would leave him with his premises founded on “I believe…” so obviously that people might think these were the wild personal assertions of an egomaniac.

  • Sunfish

    Tony should have given serious thought to leaving policing to, well, everyone other than his administration. Echoing Elijah, Peel is spinning in his grave.

    I mean, that’s just sick and wrong. Tony is a bigger threat to the UK than al-Qaeda, al-Jazeera, or Al Bundy. Someone should be standing over him with a boom microphone and revoking his passport.

    (Not that our current administration is THAT much better. AG Gonzales makes The Reno look both competent and respectful of the rule of law.)

  • Pa Annoyed

    Amusing aside:

    I saw William Haig commenting on it this morning. I don’t have an exact transcript, but it was something like:

    “The measures this government have introduced so far are ineffective authoritarianism. What we need are effective measures.”

  • Paul Marks

    Anyone who thinks that the function of law is to give “signals” is no follower of the tradition of the Common Law.

    However, how many of Mr Blair’s teachers at Oxford were followers of this tradition?

    Even those lawyers who place “civil liberties” above “reasons of state” (“reasons of state” does seem to be the tradition Mr Blair is from) do not tend to understand these liberties in the way of the Common Law tradition (hence such things as the “Human Rights Act”).

  • guy herbert

    Whatever his tutors’ position on the Common Law tradition, they will have taught about it. It is the crudity of Blair’s views and the inanity of his arguments that astonish.

    While his colleagues, even the legally qualified ones, often behave as if the only book on law they ever read was John Griffiths’ The Politics of the Judiciary, a whole degree in jurisprudence in 1970s Oxford would have meant the opportunity and obligation to hear HLA Hart, Ronald Dworkin, John Finnis and Joseph Raz at the height of their powers. What the critical theorists of my acquaintence call “boring Oxbridge jurisprudence”, i.e., the real thing, mainline.

    Blair is much more like a second-rate theologian than a legal philosopher in his style of argument. It is said that his holiday reading is theology. And he claims John MacMurray as his greatest influence – a man whose philosophy is congenial to the particularistic mind.

  • Alan Douglas

    My lomg-held conviction is that lawyers should be DEBARRED from MAKING law – on the basis that they have a pecuniary interest in it. So many modern laws require endless (to the rest of us expesive) legal argument, I wonder whether this was a deliberate move byt these damn law-making lawyers.

    Used to think that this was a clever idea of mine until I learned that lawyers were indeed debarred from parliament by I think Charles II. What a clever king.

    Re Blair, he was raised in an adversorial system, and never rose above that to become a statesman. Seems to be true of most of these left lunatic lawyers.

    Alan Douglas

  • DocBud

    Tony sounds like a perfect candidate for the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre.


  • guy herbert

    Alan Douglas,

    On the contrary, that’s not an original but a hackneyed idea, and like most popular views founded on stupid misconceptions.

    1. There will never be a shortage of work for lawyers any more than there will for doctors or bankers. Lawyers deal with, or set-out to pre-empt, disputes; disputes are not going away any more than money or disease is.

    2. Great and rapid changes in the law are extremely inconvenient to lawyers. Things are complicated enough without added uncertainty.

    3. The statute and regulatory law is not made by, or to suit, lawyers. It is made by politicians (increasingly by politicians who have no understanding of what they are doing), and devised by bureaucrats.

    4. The whole point of my post – and here I agree with Paul – is that Blair and his close colleagues, though they may have worn wigs in their time, have no feeling for or respect for law. They see it as a political instrument, to be used ad lib “to send signals” and to pander to the mob. I’d suggest that those of them that grasp the concept of law at all see it in postmodern terms as a means of legitimising the interests of power – and they are the masters now.

    5. The best lawyers in parliament are only rarely found in the Commons, and the distinguished QCs and judges found on the back- and cross- benches of the Lords are usually to be found opposing unconsidered changes and mountainous regulation, and proposing clarification and simplification.

    lawyers were indeed debarred from parliament by I think Charles II

    And your source for that is? Charles II’s father was beheaded for attempting to prescribe the functioning of parliament to parliament. If you go back much before the 20th century, a gentleman’s education included the bar more likely than it did the university.

    The problem with Blair is quite the opposite from that you diagnose. He doesn’t see that every issue can have two sides or that it can be morally ambiguous, which are the usual lessons of adversarial argument for those who have to think about a case. Whether or he really deems his opponents to be knaves, he characterises them as such to the public, and consistently refuses to treat their arguments with seriousness.

    He doesn’t like argument. His mode is assertion and repetition. The whole point of the third way is to avoid argument and to make holding opposing positions impossible.

    Compare Thatcher, also a barrister (though a chemist first), genuinely adversarial, who wanted to have the argument in order to win it. Major was a banker, Calllaghan a trades unionist, Wilson an academic economist, Atlee ditto