Freedom? It’s a steal

The Peter Hitchens programme on Channel 4 last night was interesting – it’s good to see this issues get some mainstream(-ish) airing – but not really anything new. It was instructive, for example, to see the the country’s chief law officer, the Lord Chancellor Charlie “any pal of Tony’s can get to be a minister” Falconer, is as ignorant of what is meant by civil liberties as his boss – or cares as little for them. His suggestion that restrictions on liberty were justified if they were at some point to bring to light evidence of a possible terrorist crime was frankly mind-boggling in its inanity. Is that honestly the best argument he’s got? Here’s a hint Charlie: destroying the centuries of legal tradition that lie at the root of our way of life on the basis of a hypothetical is at the very least pretty stupid. For a trained lawyer to do so amounts to professional incompetence on an epic scale. I thought the law was about evidence – pious hope is supposed to be the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps he’s in the wrong job.

The case studies that Hitchens used were disturbing:

  • the train spotter harassed and searched in public (on a station platform) by transport police;
  • the Christian couple reported by a council minion and then threatened with prosecution for ‘hate crime’ for their – admittedly unfashionable – beliefs;
  • the student whose fingerprints were linked to a theft from a post box – because he had written and posted the letters which were part of the evidence – all because his prints were held on file even though he had never been charged with or convicted of any offence;
  • the schoolboy arrested, DNA-swabbed, then released – all because he was a witness to a crime – and his DNA, of course, remains on file;
  • the Labour peer (and former senior policeman) threatened by the North Wales police;
  • and of course the woman convicted for reading a list of names by the Cenotaph.

These are merely the tip of the iceberg, and there is a case to be made that this sort of thing represents a serious and worrying change in the role of the police, from being the servant of the public charged with preventing and detecting crime, to agents of the state with a role in policing what people say and think. There is also a clear indication that there are many, both in public authorities and in the various police forces (the real plods and the pseudo-plods) who just like throwing their weight around. This, in itself is nothing new. What is new is the extent of the opportunities for such abuse, and the support which it receives from government; that we seem to have a government which is more and more concerned with overseeing and controlling citizens’ speech and thought, while leaving the victims of crime increasingly unprotected; and obsessed with monitoring and recording every movement, every transaction, of every one of us. In effect, that the role of the police is gradually becoming less and less one of protecting the citizens against criminals, and more and more about protecting the state. That should worry everybody.

Give me liberty to know, to think, to believe, and utter freely, according to conscience, above all other liberties.
John Milton

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