Friday, October 07, 2011


Here's a piece from Liberal Conspiracy this week - Why do we have a problem with faith, family and flag?  Give it a quick skim, because I'll be coming back to it later.

Now, it's been a very revealing week for the UK on legal issues, in which both the British public and the government were shown to vastly prefer pleasing myths and self-pitying boo-hoo to a justice system based upon evidence and adjudication.

First up, Theresa May filled her conference speech with Palinesque hoots and snorts aimed at the Human Rights Act, much to the joy of her audience, who gave nary a damn whether she spoke the truth or just made shit up out of whole cloth.  The HRA - a piece of legislation that the Tory rank and file want pulled regardless of its merits or flaws - is one of the right's great bugbears, and conference season requires platoons of hackish ministers to thrust their faces into the spotlight with booming vows for crackdowns.

Unfortunately for May, she foolishly chucked one of the countless invented scare stories of criminals and immigrants abusing the law to claim a helicopter full of drunk glamour models in her speech, thus beshitting her entire Voice-Of-Common-Sense act.  Here's an iron rule of politics for you - if a politician is caught feeding whopping great lies to the public on a perceived problem, you can be sure that their remedies are stuffed to the brim with nonsense also.

Thankfully, current justice minister Ken Clarke does actually pay vague attention to the law, and promptly relieved himself all over May's speech.  The result?  Clamour for Clarke's resignation.

Meanwhile in Italy, Amanda Knox and Rafaelle Sollecito were freed on appeal against their sentence for assisting in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

Now, say what you like about this case, but the hard facts are this - the prosecution were unable to establish any reasonable motive; were dubious on opportunity and failed to provide any solid evidence that the accused were present at the murder.  What appears to have happened is that the police forced a confession from Knox, then proclaimed to the world that the two were guilty as sin and would be summarily impaled upon the great rhino horn of the law.  And then, the evidence from the crime scene came back explicitly indicating that a third party had murdered the victim on his own.

In the UK, the police and prosecutors would probably announce that they had got it wrong; apologise to the victim's family, release those parties that it had no evidence against and prosecute the perpetrator.   This, of course, would leave the coppers looking a bit silly, but there's no harm in that, provided the guilty are punished and the innocent spared.

In Perugia, it looks very much like the coppers and the prosecutor would rather lose digits than confess to an error, and so they ploughed on with a farcical, nonsensical case that kept two people in prison for four years for a crime that they didn't commit...  Because they might have looked silly if they'd changed their minds.

And yet, I've spent half the week trying to explain this to colleagues who are determined that Knox in particular is guilty, and evidence be damned.  When you're up against newspapers that are telling their readers that smiling assassins are set to make squillions from crime, the very idea that people should be convicted on the basis of evidence, rather than acting suspiciously, changing your story or looking shifty seems to be regarded by many as some kind of rampant political correctness.

Here's the big problem we Brits have with justice issues.  The general public don't understand the law, and they don't want to understand it.  We already know everything we need to, thank you very much, and any attempt to complicate matters with talk of law is merely an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.  Thus, Amanda Knox is a she-devil and the HRA entitles illegal immigrants to free cats and housing benefit, or whatever.

Thanks to decades of tabloid horseshit, we appear to regard the law as a highfalutin conspiracy between criminals and judges aimed at ensuring the highest level of public outrage.  Speak to people about this, and a huge number appear to believe that they've got access to some kind of Private Eye-style insider information - wielders of the flame of truth, indignant defenders of Common Sense.  They don't, of course - they've just spent years getting their information from hacks and politicians who only feed them whatever they already wanted to hear.

So this is why I have a problem with airy and highly subjective concepts like "Faith, Family and Flag" - they're uncomfortably close to invocations of Common Sense, which is a way of saying Things I believe intensely, regardless of whether or not they are true.  "Human rights" and "evidence" have strict definitions and practical applications.  "Faith", for example, is windy bullshit, open to be hijacked and driven in any direction by a pack of fork-tongued lunatics.

The population of Britain, by and large, are a pretty smart bunch.  We can handle a bit of complexity and we don't need everything explained to us in apocalyptic tones.  The nation's problems are many and varied, and all of us would benefit if they were addressed with that in mind, rather than by feeding us a blazing miasma of lies, deceptions, outrage-mongering hysteria and straight up nonsense.

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