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The pointlessness of working within the system

Just as the Tory Party (the party that has given us Chris Patten, Edward Heath and Ken Clarke) cannot be counted on to reverse the march into regulatory Euro-statism (they at best slow the rate at which it happens), similarly the Tory reaction to plans by Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett to lower the burden of proof in criminal cases where the state really wants to convict someone is one of essential support.

So… we are left with only one half-way significant party who seems to care even the slightest about civil liberties in the court room: The LibDems. But then again, when it comes to regulatory statism and abridging economic free association in society at large, the LibDems are even more keen than Labour to replace all social interaction with politically derived formulae for just about any kind of behaviour you can think of.

And people wonder why I urge folks not to vote for anyone? So how does one resist the increasingly panoptic regulatory state? Good question.

8 comments to The pointlessness of working within the system

  • Tom

    Well why don’t you do the rational libertarian thing and start your own party? Surely freedom loving libertarian voters would make a rational decision and vote for you……

  • Jonathan L

    Libertarians spend more time arguing with each other than with the real enemy. Any libertarian parties are sure to split up and alienate the public rather than gain public support.

    I don’t see any other option than working within the system. A few charismatic loose cannons in parliament would have a much greater impact than dozens of libertarian parties.

    The general public rarely gets to hear any ideas outside the statist consensus. When they do it scares rather than interests them. Therefore the cause of liberty needs some high profile defenders to get the public used to what have become very alien ideas. Thats someone within the system, because thats the only way the media takes an interest.

  • Mary Contrary

    I find it interesting that even the Director of Public Prosecutions is reported to be critical of plans to lower the standard of proof.

    Let’s consider what has been happening over the years. Gradually the number of potential offenses one might commit has been steadily escalating. Meanwhile, the definition of offenses has often become quite broad, or vague and woolly. Accordingly, whether or not you are convicted of an offense increasingly depends on the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service of whether to prosecute.

    The CPS, meanwhile, has to have some basis for exercising its discretion. While it might seem arbitrary, may well be so in some isolated cases, and certainly has the potential to be seriously abused, the CPS has a much easier life if it can find some semi-coherent set of principles that will not incite a revolution on the streets.

    Now consider the combined impact on CPS decision-making of the jury and the criminal standard of proof. The CPS knows that it isn’t smart to prosecute unless it can be fairly confident of a conviction. If the case is to go before a jury, and if the jury have to find that someone was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” then the jury is a real check on frivolous prosecutions: if the CPS keeps prosecuting people for selling apples by the pound then a certain amount of embarassing acquitals will follow; this number might even rise as juries become more aware that jury nullification is an option. So the high burden of proof and the existence of the jury actually help the CPS, by giving it a bureaucratically acceptable way of weeding out some of the more stupid and oppressive potential prosecutions before they get started.

    Lower the burden of proof (or remove the jury, or both) and the CPS is left all at sea. Strip it of the fig-leaf argument that “a prosecution in this case does not have an adequate chance of success” and there is no longer an excuse for it not to prosecute: common sense being outside their remit.

    Megalomaniac dictators and totalitarian Home Secretaries might be keen on unlimited arbitrary power, but those who run major organisations know that a bureaucracy wouldn’t even know how to cope with it.

  • Michael

    Any party who’s main policies are adopting the Euro, banning smoking in public places and raising income tax, will not get my vote whatever their views on civil liberties.

  • The latest proposals from Blair and Blunkett are truly depressing. If they get on the statute books, then it will be very easy for the govt to lock up anyone it dislikes.

    No one will be safe in a system where the “balance of probabilities” test is used for criminal convictions, where trials (held in secret) are by security vetted judge only, where counsel also has to be vetted and where evidence can be withheld from the defendant. How would you even know whether the withheld secret evidence existed in the first place?

    Ironically, the lowering of the burden of proof could be counter-productive. Because a lower burden of proof is needed for conviction, the authorities will move from investigation to prosecution earlier in the process. As a result, standards of investigation will drop. The likely outcome is that fewer criminals get caught and more innocent people get jailed. It will also be easier for both criminals and the state to frame people for crimes they didn’t commit and get away with it. Trust in the system will erode ever further under these proposals.

    Perry asks how we resist these attacks on liberty, and leaves an image of a gun. I don’t think it’s come to that yet, but if this insane assault on civil liberties continues, ISTM civil war will be the end result (to remove the repressive dictatorship that has grabbed power with previous govt’s having prepared the way so nicely for it…).

    As for the Tories not doing much to oppose this stuff, it doesn’t surprise me at all given that when their leader was Home Secretary he set the ball rolling with his own attacks on civil liberties.

    ISTM civil liberties has become a lost cause in Britain. We should all be afraid.

    Those thinking of leaving the country to escape such laws should ponder this. Under the European Arrest Warrant, you could be extradited from another EU country to Britain without that country’s courts seeing any evidence against you. The reach of these laws is thus EU-wide, so long as the max jail sentence for the offence in Britain is 3 or more years (and for some countries 1 or more years will suffice).

    But then maybe leaving the EU was what you had in mind all along…

    My latest blog contains further comments on Blunkett’s latest proposals…

  • Mary’s thoughts above prompt a few questions in my mind about the British criminal justice system.

    Is the evil known here in the US as plea bargaining in use in the UK? That little efficiency move by the courts here has made wildly unjust policies such as Mr. Blunkett’s proposals largely un-needed (by the oppressors).

    Almost all criminal cases in the US are resolved by plea bargaining, and the evidence in large percentages of them are nowhere near what would be required to obtain a jury conviction. But the (literally) poor defendant, stuck with a Public Defender, KNOWS he is almost always going to lose if he goes to trial.

    It’s common knowledge here that the only Public Defenders worth a damn are those rare hotshots who are trying to stand out to ‘jump the fence’ and get a job in prosecution. The rest are almost all second rate lawyers who couldn’t hack it in private practice.

    Hell, and they can already take your property on a ‘preponderance of evidence’ in a civil action if any drugs are found (even just a joint!)

    Conviction rates via plea bargain have been as high as over 90% of arrests in some jurisdictions in the US.

    So, is this practice in use in Britain, and if so is it anywhere nearly as prevalent as it is here?

  • David,

    You mention that in the US, someone can have their assets seized on “predonderance of evidence” if drugs are found.

    Since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the British government can sieze assets from anyone, using civil procedures if they can prove “on balance of probabilities” the assets are the proceeds of crime. There is no need for the person concerned to have been convicted of anything. Indeed they may even have been acquitted. Admittedly this guy probably committed benefit fraud, though the question is begged as to why they didn’t try him for that…

  • Anthony

    The Pointlessness of Working Outside the System

    Somewhere back in 1993, after a speech at the Fraser Institute, Margaret Thatcher answered a question this way:


    We have just elected in Canada a number of members of a party called the Reform Party, which very much espouses your principles. What advice would you give to Preston Manning, the leader of this party, to advance capitalism in Canada?


    Well the Reform Party is not in power. What they’ve got to do, if they believe in those principles, is sell the principles to the party in power. No good having principles unless you’re prepared to put them into practice. If you’re prepared to put them into practice you’re constantly putting forward that viewpoint in every single debate, in every bill, in every committee stage on a bill, and hopefully having all of the people who believe the same way, also making speeches, also writing to the press, also trying to create the climate of opinion to enable those principles to be turned into practice.

    Also, I might note, that while you are not political, this Institute is not a passive organization. It is one which requires active expression of that which you believe. You must, in your own non-political way, endeavour to make your principles the issues of national debate. I think you should take some solace in the fact that there is now a significant block of parliamentarians who are espousing the principles you have long advocated.


    I add only this: If there aren’t a significant block of parliamentarians espousing your principles, then you should be electing them to your favorite party. If the members of your party don’t yet have power, then you need to elect more members until they do. If you don’t want to make use of an existing party, then you need to make a new one powerful enough to be a major player, and if you don’t want to do build your own party, then you must build a society within a society, like the early Christians.

    Obviously, the first is the easiest, and takes the shortest time, though even here we’re talking many years, perhaps decades. Growing a new party will take longer; consider the difficulty of this endeavor with the Liberal Democrats. The last solution will only take you a thousand years or so.

    Here is a very good example of that articulate pessimism mentioned elsewhere.

    I suggest you put your shoulders into the Conservative Party until its members are yours. If not, get comfortable. There’s a long, long trail a-winding.