THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Law" Feed

The right to die? Or the right to kill?

BBC NEWS | Health | Result due in right-to-die case.

Dreamstime_5186260 I follow the discussions on euthanasia with interest, but I am puzzled by the terminology favoured by the media. This lady's "right to die" is not in question, although the religious may say it's morally wrong. Suicide was legalised long since - and rightly so.

I have nothing but compassion for anyone who chooses to end a life they consider unbearable. It's that person's life and choice. But this is not about the "right to die". It's about the right to kill, or to be an accessory to a killing. It's about introducing a new defence to the crime of murder. The debate might be conducted more rationally, if more honest words were used.

The euthanasia laws in the Netherlands have resulted (that law of intended consequences again) in sick people refusing to go to hospital. They fear the convenience of euthanasia to medical staff who prefer to work on potentially positive cases rather than palliative care for those nearing the exit. In socialised healthcare systems, they fear being pressured to stop "bed-blocking;" consuming rationed resources that could be used by others. They may also fear the convenience of euthanasia to impatient heirs.

It's bad enough to be terminally-ill, without being pressured to get it over with for the good of others. Can it ever truly be selfish to want another moment of life? On the other hand, is it not enormously selfish of a dying person to blight the life of a surviving loved one by asking them to live with the memory of having killed?

The fundamental tenet of all libertarianism is that it is wrong to initiate violence. Much though I sympathise with the families of people in this terrible position, I do not believe it's right to legitimise pre-meditated, active involvement in another's death.


Bullied City lawyer claiming £12m

BBC NEWS | UK | Bullied City lawyer claiming £12m.
Anyone weak enough to be bullied should be ashamed to call himself a lawyer, let alone a "City lawyer" (which has other connotations than the literal "lawyer who works in the City"). We may be gentle souls in our spare time, but professionally we are meant to be tough. We are also supposed to be persuasive. Listening to the radio interview embedded in the linked article, I thought it rather sad that the interviewer came over as being quite so much more intelligent and articulate than the interviewee. What happened to the performance art element of lawyering, aka advocacy?

What is going to happen when everyone in Britain has decided it is more profitable to be a victim than to work? How are tough jobs to be performed when the nation is populated entirely by what one of my colleagues calls "entitlement bunnies?"

What next? Mafia hit men suing their Godfathers for work-related stress? Samurai on the sick?

A clean slate

I was driving down to Cannes last Monday with a client and friend. He's a qualified lawyer but is no longer practising. En route, we played an interesting mind game. We asked ourselves, if every English statute were repealed, how many (or rather how few) Acts of Parliament we would need to make a functioning civilised society. We started by trying to limit ourselves to 10 statutes, but could not actually come up with more than 6!

England & Wales is an unusual jurisdiction. If you abolished all the statutes you would still, thanks to the English Common Law, have a functioning system. There is even an argument to say that - given time - the judges would close the gaps our statutes would fill. But the "game" required that everything worked on day 1 of the new regime. So here is our list. I am interested to know what you think about it and - in particular - how your list would differ:-

  1. The Limitation of the State Act (LSA)
  2. The Artificial Legal Personalities Act (ALP)
  3. The Representation of the People Act (RPA)
  4. The Armed Forces Act (AFA)
  5. The Taxation Act (TA)
  6. The Citizenship Act (CA)

Let me begin with the LSA. This would set the boundaries of state power and would amount to the "Constitution" of our new state.

The UK currently has a constitution, but it is neither unified nor entrenched. It is scattered across various documents, and can be changed at any time by a simple majority in Parliament. For most of our history, that didn't seem to matter. The struggle to establish Parliamentary sovereignty was the key story and much of our constitution (beginning with Magna Carta) was about limiting the power of the King. Having achieved that, we seem to have settled into a sort of smug constitutional complacency, relying on Parliament always to act as the protector of the peoples' rights. That seems to have gone awry of late, mainly (in my view) because political parties have subverted the constitution by selecting parliamentary candidates for their willingness to submit to discipline and then controlling them ruthlessly via the Whips. This means that the executive controls the legislature and can dictate its behaviour.

The LSA would mandate (for the first time in the UK) the separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Rather than drawing the executive from Parliament, any MP appointed as a Minister would have to resign and be replaced. Likewise, no judge could be a member of the Executive or the Legislature.

The LSA would also prevent the State from playing any direct role in health care or education. Neither of us favoured it being involved even in compulsory systems of health insurance, for example, but we had to accept that we are far more radical than most of our fellow citizens. Therefore we limited ourselves to prohibiting the state from employing anyone other than civil servants engaged directly in administration of the government and its agencies, plus the military and police forces. We toyed with the idea of excluding all government employees from voting (on the basis that they have a clear conflict of interest with taxpayers) but there are so many of them that the chance of ever enacting such a restriction is low.

The LSA would clearly demarcate the roles of the central and local governments. It would limit the number of layers of the state. There would be Assemblies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which would sit separately to legislate on devolved matters and together as the Upper House (which is a nice economy measure). The LSA would be entrenched legislation, which could only be changed by a majority in the Lower House and in each of the four National Assemblies. It would also outlaw secondary or "enabling" legislation, whereby the legislature delegates the power to make law. It would have little if anything to say about local government, because we envisage a system where local authorities would compete with each other for residents, both on local taxation and the absence of restrictive local rules.

In subsequent posts, I will describe the other five statutes in our imaginary system.


Is this how the Crown Prosecution Service would treat you?

One of the best things about Britain used to be that the police had no special powers or privileges. Sir Robert Peel's original conception was of people employed to do professionally what any public-spirited citizen might do. The genius of this vision was that citizens need not fear their police. They were just exercising every citizen's rights; fulfilling every citizen's duty. The Jean Charles de Menezes case is clear evidence that we must fear them now. They have been set above us.

If you killed a man on the Tube, believing him (on slight evidence and that contradicted by his being too lightly clad to conceal a bomb)  to be a suicide bomber, you would be prosecuted. The police and the CPS would say that it was "for a jury to decide" whether your defence was a good one. The family of the man you killed would expect a trial. Quite rightly, justice would be done and would be seen to be done.

There is no shadow of justice in today's, all too predictable, news. The stark fact is that one set of the State's agents has protected another. So much so, that we do not even know the killers' names. Compare and contrast that with the coverage of alleged crimes committed by those who are not the State's privileged agents. Their names are bandied about for all to remember long after their acquittal.

I do not know that a jury would convict these policemen. I suspect it wouldn't. I don't think the CPS is protecting the killers for their own good. I suspect the objective is to avoid public discussion of the, probably illegal, instructions given by the the Home Office in the wake of the 7/7 bombings.

Of all the dark stories of the New Labour years, this is perhaps the most sinister. I cannot understand why the public is unmoved.


Let's be tough on the real causes of crime

Link: The Home Counties boys who planned murder | Uk News | News | Telegraph.

FertiliserbombersThis gentleman speaks directly to Toynbee, Blair and all those other Guardianistas who seek to excuse crime and terrorism by reference to its "social causes"

Omar Khyam's uncle told the Daily Telegraph: "You read in the papers, 'Ah, well it's because of lack of opportunities.' "Rubbish, what part don't you understand? What lack of opportunities? They had a reasonable education, they come from reasonable families, with very stable backgrounds, financially sound.

Thank you, sir. The twin "causes of crime" in Britain are (a) criminals and (b) Guardianistas who hold "society," not criminals responsible. As Theodore Dalrymple says (writing of an emerging Indian underclass in Britain)

In fact, they have assimilated to the local cultural and intellectual climate: a climate in which the public explanation of behavior, including their own, is completely at variance with all human experience. This is the lie that is at the heart of our society, the lie that encourages every form of destructive self-indulgence to flourish: for while we ascribe our conduct to pressures from without, we obey the whims that well up from within, thereby awarding ourselves carte blanche to behave as we choose. Thus we feel good about behaving badly.

The politicians cannot make people feel responsible for their own actions. All they can do is consistently treat them as if they are. Doing the opposite for decades has created the lie that Dalrymple describes. It will take decades of truth to reverse the damage done.

Yesterday, a British jury and a British judge ignored the excuses and special pleading. They held criminals responsible for their choices. Is it too much to hope for the politicians to do the same - and not just for those whose crimes are political?


Don't be smug about V-Tech killings

Link: BBC NEWS | World | Americas | US university killer was S Korean.

GunBritain's anti-American media were all over the sad story of the V-Tech killings. They tore gleefully into America's "gun culture" and its people in general. Let's get this straight. This horror didn't happen because the killer was American. It didn't happen because he was ethnically Korean. It happened because the poor young man was mad.

"Ah, but he had such easy access to guns." Yes, he did. Unfortunately, since the university authorities had made the campus "gun-free," his victims did not. There was no-one there to return fire. Most of the victims would be alive today if the university had not banned guns.

Some Britons seem to enjoy it when something like this happens in America, but Britain has no moral standing to judge America harshly.  Violent crime is declining in America and rising in Britain. The risk of being violently attacked in England & Wales is already higher than in America and rising. In Scotland, the situation is worse. Many killed or injured with knives or other weapons in Britain, would be alive and unharmed if their assailants had feared they might have a gun.

The main disadvantage of widespread gun ownership in America is that suicide is easier. 58% of America's gun deaths are self-inflicted, which is one reason you have to be careful when gun control advocates choose to compare "gun deaths" rather than homicides. Only 38% of America's "gun deaths" are homicides and some of those are justifiable (e.g. self-defence).

Britain's only statistical advantage in the field of crime is that our homicide rate is lower. America counts all reported offences. We remove homicides from the statistics if all suspects are acquitted (although the victim remains dead). We might not show the V-Tech killings in our statistics at all, if they were found to have been committed by a mentally-disturbed person (see Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/07). America's statistics more accurately reflect the total number of victims.

It's hard to say what the statistical difference would be if comparable figures were available, but it seems reasonable to suspect that some of Britain's advantage would be lost.

Burglaries are twice as common in Britain as in America and 53% of them (because of improved household security) now take place when the homeowner is present. In America only 13% of burglaries take place while an occupant is home. American burglars do not have the benefit of a government guarantee that all properties are undefended. Would anyone in America have frightened my wife like these guys? I don't think so. They would have been afraid that she or some kindly neighbour  would have shot them. That fear would have neutralised all their advantages of youth, strength and disregard for reputation.

To carry a licensed gun in America, you must - in every State - have a clean criminal record. Am I naive enough to expect American criminals to obey America's gun control laws? No. The naive ones are those who expect British criminals to abide by Britain's. They simply don't. While, by definition, no law-abiding citizen in Britain is armed; one-third of young criminals own or have access to a gun. There may be as many as four million illegal firearms in Britain.

For most of my life, I shared the common British view that America's attitude to gun control was crazy. However, disarming the law-abiding has proved to be disastrous. The British State can't or won't protect us. We were stupid to let it disarm us.

Can we please just shut up about V-Tech? We have no leg to stand on.


Another conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?

Link: News of the World - Online Edition.

I apologise to Guido for thinking his theory about the injuncted email contrived. It seems that police sources have alleged to the News of the World that Number 10 did leak the email itself, presumably so as to try to engineer a mistrial.

I am no expert on current criminal law, but it seems to me that if true this would, in itself, be another attempt to pervert the course of justice. It could form the basis of a completely separate charge.

The "cash for peerages" story is really now irrelevant. If, as some allege, the Prime Minister's team has destroyed evidence, lied to the police and now deliberately leaked an email to the press to compromise a criminal trial, these are much more serious offences. Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice carries a theoretical maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although 10 years has been the longest sentence to date.

Frankly, if the office of our head of Government had really been involved in such a crime (which I am reluctant to believe) it would be time for the judges to break that record. The culture of "spin" which has grown up around Tony Blair is utterly despicable. There is no question that he and his staff are habitual deceivers.

Let us hope that habit has not been carried over into the world of criminal justice.

H/T Dizzy Thinks


Does this remind you of anything?

President Hugo Chávez was granted an Enabling Law by the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 31, 2007.

The Enabling Law vests the President with legislative powers for 18 months in several areas, including nationalizations, hydrocarbons, electric utilities, telecommunications, taxes, social security and public finance, among several others.

Comrade Hugo has had the decency to restrict himself to 18 months of such powers, and to limit them to certain areas of law. That doesn't make him any more of a constitutional democrat than his friends in Britain.

Comrade Hugo is also more honest in his choice of name for his law.

It is really interesting to review the history of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, and to compare the undertaking given by Jim Murphy with that given by Adolf Hitler in advance of the passage of his Enabling Act.

"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one."
The UK Bill has been toned down considerably, but its original form tells us all we need to know about the instincts of our rulers, which is that they are closer to those of Comrade Hugo than to those of Parliamentary democrats.

Several Cambridge University law professors wrote to the Times on February 16 last year on the subject (which I believe I have the honour of having been the first to blog about). Sadly the rehash of Times Online has trashed the online copy of their letter, but they pointed out that (as reported at the Save Parliament website)

a minister would have been able to abolish trial by jury, suspend habeas corpus (your right not to be arbitrarily arrested), or change any of the legislation governing the legal system.
I still find it hard to believe that, in the country which pioneered the concept of the rule of law, it is a seedy scandal over party finances that seems likely to bring down a government with such tyrannical instincts.