22 January 2006

Innocent till proven guilty.

This is the mantra of the civil liberties crew, but why is the respect agenda such a threat to civil liberties in their minds when they tolerate prisoners being held on remand?

Of course the reason the idea of holding people on remand is tolerated is because innocent or not, it is accepted that for some serious crimes it is not worth taking the risk that they might not return for their trial, especially if they are potential rapists or murderers.

To claim that fines and other non-custodial punishments for low level crime are a threat to civil liberties is ridiculous while the concept of being on remand is tolerated.

30 comments:

  1. Two wrongs don't make a right. Punishing people for committing an offence without without providing evidence, when the authorities have the capacity to find evidence - if it exists - is wrong. So at best, the 'civil liberties crew' would be hypocritical. However, people on remand do at least go through the courts, may have advantages that other prisoners don't, and do not have the slur of having been adjudged guilty, as have the recipients of the 'low-level' fines.

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  2. So you think that no prisoner should be held on remand?

    The point I'm trying to make is that this is a far bigger breach of the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle, but I don't hear anyone arguing against this.

    The idea of remand is reasonable and of benefit to the majority of us becuase it doesn't mean loads of rapists and murderers going on the run and the latest proposals from this government to tackle anti-social behavior will be of benefit because it means that criminals will be less likely yo progress to more significant crimes.

    This 'outrage' at the latest proposals on respect has more to do with 'New Labour' bashing than it does with preserving civil liberties. Hence most of the criticisms and insults I have received have accused me of being a New Labour stooge. Anybody who regularly reads this blog would know that to be a ridiculous claim. I hardly stick to the Labour line on most issues. Why else would I be so vocal on proportional representation, the citizen's income, the nonsense of religion and the legalisation of drugs?

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  3. The Remittance Man23/1/06 11:36 am

    An accused man can only be remanded in custody after certain steps have been taken. Firstly the police and CPS must have done an investigation and made a case. They must then arrest the accused and bring him before the court. Here the police and CPS prove they have the accused (habeus corpus)and lay out the basics of their case to the court (the prima faci case). The court then decides whether the accused has a case to answer. If this is so the court then asks the accused whether he pleads "guilty" or "not guilty".

    Assuming that the accused wishes to contest the case the court then schedules a date for the trial. At this point the police/CPS may make the request that the accused be held in remand. This will only be granted if they can prove to the court's satisfaction that the accused is either a flight risk or that he constitutes a serious threat to the public.

    As far as I am aware the cases of remand prisoners must be reviewed by the court at frequent intervals.

    Remanding accused people in custody may be overused, but to use this to justify summary justice is not exactly a logical position.

    RM

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  4. So you think that no prisoner should be held on remand?

    Neil, your ability to see into the hearts of your fellow men continues to astonish me. I can't see where B4L said or implied any such thing. He even seems to justify holding prisoners on remand with his "when the authorities have the capacity to find evidence" clause.

    Still, you know best.

    The point I'm trying to make is that this is a far bigger breach of the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle, but I don't hear anyone arguing against this.

    No it isn't, as B4L unambiguously pointed out with "[prisoners on remand] do not have the slur of having been adjudged guilty, as have the recipients of the 'low-level' fines."

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  5. backward dave: They 'do not have the slur of having been adjudged guilty'.

    Well why lock them up then? They certainly are not being treated as 'innocent till proven guilty' are they?

    How can being wrongly fined be as bad as being wrongly imprisoned?

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  6. The Remittance Man23/1/06 3:06 pm

    Er because the state has proved to the court at least a prima faci case against the accused and that he or she is either a flight risk for whom bail will not be a deterent or a risk to the general public.

    I hardly think these sorts of reasons are applicable for "minor" offences and hardly a convincing case for summary justice.

    Admittedly remanding people in custody is not an ideal situation and I would suspect it is used far too frequently.

    Summary justice is the last recourse of tinpot dictatorships and third world authoritarians. I'm very surprised that Mr Blair, a trained barrister with a particular passion for human rights could find himself contemplating this course of action. It smacks of desperation. Could this be his Henry II moment?

    RM

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  7. (ah, RM sneaked in just before me...)

    Neil, I'm not defending the various injustices and abuses of remand, but reasons for finding oneself there include (from the Wikipedia) that the suspect has been accused of carrying out a particularly serious offence, or they/others are in danger pre-trial. It's not necessarily pleasant, but it's a system that exists in countries with proper legal systems, which believe that people's innocence (and reputation too) should be protected, even if that involves them being put through some hardship. Something about people's freedom not being for sale...

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  8. When someone is on remand they are in jail despite being only 'accused' of a crime. How does this fit in with your principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'.

    It obviously doesn't fit, which makes your criticism of the respect agenda inconsistent. Surely being locked up is worse than being fined?

    Practicalities obviously do matter. This is all a question of balance, where we draw the line in the accepted imperfections of the system.

    In terms of anti-social crime, we need to move that balance back towards effective punishment of the guilty and this will mean a few more innocent caught in the net. But it is worth it because of the benefits not only to the majority of law abiding people but also the criminals themselves who are less likely to progress to more serious offences and a lifetime of intermittent incarceration.

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  9. They're not merely in jail, they're in the middle of a legal process, pending trial, and either couldn't afford bail, or were refused it. It might not be very nice, but they're still innocent, and if the trial rules in their favour, they leave without a stain on their character. It may seem "head in the clouds" but you have to get the principle right first, and not undermine legal institutions in such a way that people can't be sure whether or not they'll get justice (and the latest proposals are not the only ones at fault here)

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  10. Oh well thats all right then, I'm sure those languishing in jail on remand are reassured that they are still innocent till proven guilty. The reason they are being held is because they are not presumed innocent, you can't get away from that.

    If you accept the practicalities of people being held on remand, then the respect agenda is a nothing issue in comparison. People can still appeal if they think they have been fined incorrectly.

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  11. You said in another post

    "We already lock innocent people up when we place them on remand. Surely this locking up of the innocent is far worse than fining the innocent"

    Lets just dissect that for a moment shall we? To my

    "We already lock innocent people up when we place them on remand."
    To my understanding these people are *potentially* innocent. They are on remand because there is a weight of evidence against them which has been assessed in a court of law, and either cannot afford bail or have been refused bail because they

    a) might do a runner
    b) constitute a *potential* threat to the public.

    I the case of a murderer / rapist etc I think this is probably a good idea. So the principle remains that they are innocent until *proven* guilty, but may prove a threat to the public if teh court system is wrong. A fair use to protect the innocent public I would say given that there is a body of evidence against the accused.

    On the other side you have
    "Surely this locking up of the innocent is far worse than fining the innocent"

    no, for reasons outlined above.

    now compare the two:

    Remand - assessed in court. evidence available. possible flight or risk to public *if* they are guilty.

    Summary justice - basically a copper / government functionary mad with power saying "it was him that did it guvner, I saw it with my own two eye, honest". And fined £100 quid.

    How can you argue that summary justice (which is effectively what Blair is proposing with his respect (/spit) agenda) is better for the innocent just because they can appeal, when in fact they should not be fined in the first place.

    Face it, this power *will* be abused if introduced, just like the prevention of terrorism act etc.

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  12. Your logic fails you.

    Some of those on remand will be found innocent of all charges, therefore they were completely innocent people who were locked up for practical reasons.

    Having to appeal a fine due to the respect agenda is trifling in comparison. To suggest that this is a threat to civil liberty principles is inconsistent with your support for remand which is a far worse breach of the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle.

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  13. remand which is a far worse breach of the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle.

    Explain how it is 'worse' - you're talking about utilitarianism here, something that runs counter to universal rights.

    As has been explained, remand does not imply guilt, and therefore it cannot possibly breach the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle, whereas summary justice drives a coach and horses through it.

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  14. The Remittance Man24/1/06 6:34 am

    As Anon pointed out to have someone remanded in custody still requires judicial review of the evidence presented by agents of the state before the accused is locked up.

    Mr Blair's Respect Agenda does away with the inconvenience of review until after the fact.

    What really puzzles me is that many Labour members and supporters have, in the past, been very vocal in their denunciation of the police as state bootboys and agents of repression. Yet in the past all the police's actions vis a vis the general public/suspects were subject to review by an independent judiciary before any substantive action could be taken against said suspects/members of the public. Now the same Labour Party wants to do away with this inconvenient process and hand the self same "agents of state repression" the power to administer summary justice.

    It isn't just an illiberal proposal, but it has all the appearance of desperation and hypocrisy. That's hardly an edifying position for a Prime Minister looking for an historic legacy from his final years in office.

    RM

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  15. "Your logic fails you.

    Some of those on remand will be found innocent of all charges, therefore they were completely innocent people who were locked up for practical reasons.

    Having to appeal a fine due to the respect agenda is trifling in comparison. To suggest that this is a threat to civil liberty principles is inconsistent with your support for remand which is a far worse breach of the 'innocent till proven guilty' principle. "

    *sigh*

    Try thinking before typing please.

    Yes, some of those on remand *may* be innocent - HOWEVER there is a body of evidence against them at time of trial that has been assessed by an independent judiciary, AND a risk assessment as to whether they will likely commit more of the same crime / escape justice if let out.

    On a civil liberties standpoint, whose liberties are more at risk, the remanded prisoner's, or the innocent general public who *may* suffer if that prisoner is released?

    In contrast, the summary justice proposed provides no reason for display of evidence, review by independent body etc - just a "trustworthy" government functionary's word / suspicion to convict the innocent.

    It might not be *consistently* logical, hoever much of life isnt as black & white as you try to make it out to be.

    Instead, think of this - with summary justice, outside of the appeals process what mechanisms are there in place in order to stop a govenment employee from abusing these "laws"? Where are the checks and balances PRIOR to an innocent person being fined?

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  16. If you want to treat someone as innocent you don't lock them up.

    How does someone on remand feel when they are cleared of all charges and released but had to spend months or maybe even over a year in jail?

    I'm sure they didn't feel very innocent while locked in a cell.

    To claim that this is somehow consistent with your principles because a court assessment is made of whether they are likely to do a runner or be a danger to the public is neither here nor there.

    Being found guilty of wanting to do a runner or that you 'may' be a risk is not a crime. These people have not been proved guilty of any crime yet they are locked up.

    Being an innocent person locked up in jail for months or even years is far worse than having to appeal a hundred pound fine. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

    If you support the principle of remand then the respect agenda is a trifling issue. And of course we support the idea of remand because it is PRACTICAL. Nobody wants 'potential' rapists or murderers running around escaping justice when they have a case to answer. In the same way it is practical to have effective and efficient punisment for anti-social crime. Without it we are just letting these people progress to more serious crimes and that is a stupid thing to do just to uphold an imaginary principle that has already been breached far more by having prisoners on remand.

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  17. The High Contracting Parties24/1/06 7:18 pm

    THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
    ARTICLE 6

    1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly by the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
    2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
    3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
    * (a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
    * (b) to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence;
    * (c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
    * (d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
    * (e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

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  18. The Remittance Man25/1/06 6:32 am

    HCP has already quoted the European Convention on Human Rights (made British law in its entirety and with great fanfare by NuLabour in 1997) so I shall limit myself to another peice of constitutional law that pertains to this matter; The English Bill of Rights of 1689 which states:

    "That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void;"

    So there we have it two peices of legislation, one ancient, one modern, both still on the statute books that deem Mr Blair's plan illegal.

    Since both acts are constitutional law they take precedence over any "operational law" such as would be required by the Respect Agenda.

    Once again I have to state my amazement that a government packed full of human rights campaigners and lawyers seems so unaware of the basic rules governing this country. Even more, they seem to lack a basic understanding of one of their own pieces of flagship legislation.

    Either Mr Blair is incredibly poorly advised, or he is monumentally stupid, or this whole "Respect Agenda" is just another piece of macho-pol posturing. Quite frankly I can't think of any other reason. I'll leave it to others to decide which.

    RM

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  19. Where does holding people on remand fit in to this legislation and 'innocent till proven guilty' mantra, because it clearly contravenes it?

    By the way, we don't have proper constitutional law in this country, governments that win under our undemocratic electoral system can do whatever they like, Thatcher proved that. The Tories had it even easier because the Lords supported them over all their anti-democratic measures. The Lords only get uppity when it's Labour in power. Look at what the lords have blocked. This is from the Guardian.

    "Since 1949, the Parliament Act has pushed through four pieces of legislation over the heads of the Lords: the War Crimes Act 1991 (the only time the Conservatives have used the act), which allowed prosecution of Nazi war criminals, the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, which established a closed-list system, and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, which lowered the age of consent for gay men to 16."

    And of course the recent Hunting Bill. Its nice to see what the Lordship's priorities are.

    The Lords have opposed more Labour bills since 1997 than they have EVER opposed of Tory govts. Most of the stuff they have opposed have been things that have been improving our civil liberties (and this from a totally unelected body that belongs in the dark ages, only a few pacific islands have the same levle of undemocratic upper chamber, it is an absolute monumental scandal).

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  20. The Remittance Man25/1/06 3:37 pm

    In terms of the differences between acts of parliament, I was refering to the ruling by the judge in the Metric Martyrs' case. Whatever one's veiws on Mr Herron and his campaigns, he has done quite a bit to shed light on certain points of law.

    In that case the judge is on record as making the distinction between ordinary and constitutional law. We may not have a constitution per se, but there are several statutes that set out the limits and powers of the state and parliament and the relationships between the branches of government. The judge made the point of saying that constitutional acts have primacy over ordinary acts, which makes sense to this non-legal mind.

    With regard to the House of Lords, one has to look at the purpose of a second chamber. Everything I've read has said that the House of Lords is there as a check and balance on the power of the lower house. The idea being that members of the Commons may be too concerned with re-election and public opinion to properly think through various bills and be tempted to pass bad laws. We can all probably cite examples of this from both sides of the political spectrum.

    As to the membership of the Lords: Yes, getting a seat by birth is anachronistic; but I'd also say that packing the place with party donors, retired MP's and other chums is hardly more democratic. When someone can come up with a more democratic system for the Lords that also removes the 'distractions' of the electoral process and the 'temptations' of office I'll support it.

    For my two penny worth I'd go with something along the lines of a single long term (7 years). A ban on any past member of the Commons ever sitting in the Lords. Ditto previous members of other elected bodies. A ban on any Lord getting a government job after leaving the Lords or a seat on any elected body. No party whips, all votes to be free and based purely on the conscience of the individual. Minimum pay and allowances. All bills to 'sit' in the Lords for a minimum of 9 months unless specifically agreed otherwise by the speakers of both Commons and Lords and the leaders of the main political parties for reasons of national security.

    Oh, and if such a second chamber ever exists, the Parliament Act must be repealed and the Lords must have full power to stop legislation going further.

    Of course I'd also like a couple of rules for the Commons too: Every bill for an ordinary act of parliament to have a statement of likely financial costs attached. The proposers of the bill to take responsibility for any variance between planned and actual cost (public ridicule and an expectation of resignation should estimates be too far out). And of course a "sunset clause" stating on what date the Act will automatically repeal itself unless specifically renewed. All members to have had at least ten years experience working in a non-governmental job before election. Members to resign if not promoted to a ministerial position within two parliaments.

    Making christmas lists is such fun!

    RM

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  21. The Remittance Man25/1/06 4:01 pm

    PS. As to remanding suspects in custody being against either of the two named acts; the HRA has been around for nearly a decade and the BOR for more than three centuries. If custodial remand was antithical to either of these, don't you think someone would have contested it by now? There are, after all, plenty of civil rights bodies concerned about these things. I'm sure quite a few of them have an opinion on the Respect Agenda too.

    RM

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  22. Holding people on remand means locking innocent people up, you can't deny this. They have not been found guilty of any offence. Those that are cleared of all charges are immediately released and have therefore spent all their time in jail on remand because they were presumed guilty rather than innocent. This is obviously worse than having to appeal a fine.

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  23. The Blue Foxxx27/1/06 10:02 pm

    Neil - please at least try to understand the difference between the police trying and convicting someone on the spot - with the 'right to appeal' - and the police arresting someone and HAVING TO PRESENT SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO THE COURT that there is a prima facie case against the defendent. What is it about this distinction you can't understand? Do you think judges patrol the streets or that the police try cases - which is it? If neither, you must be able to understand the irritation with your obtuseness.

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  24. The Blue Foxxx27/1/06 10:11 pm

    What is your next desperate tactic to defend the (dis)respect(the public) agenda. You lost the first argument and then dreamt up this non-starter - what next, people sectioned?

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  25. The Blue Foxxx27/1/06 11:37 pm

    Have you seen 2000AD? You want to live there....?!

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  26. If someone is accused of a crime, that doesn't mean they are guilty does it?

    You can't deny that remand means occasionally locking innocent people up, which is totally against your high falutin principle, yet you support it. Locking innocent people up is far worse than issuing a few fines that people have to appeal.

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  27. Neil - please at least try to understand the difference between the police trying and convicting someone on the spot - with the 'right to appeal' - and the police arresting someone and HAVING TO PRESENT SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO THE COURT that there is a prima facie case against the defendent. What is it about this distinction you can't understand? Do you think judges patrol the streets or that the police try cases - which is it? If neither, you must be able to understand the irritation with your obtuseness.

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  28. The Blue Foxxx30/1/06 10:36 pm

    "high falutin principle"

    So your position is unprincipled...?

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  29. sigh: How can you say you are treating someone as innocent when you are holding them in a cell?

    Can't YOU see how your principle is meaningless when you don't hold to it yourself.

    I am irritated that YOU can't get it.

    BLUE FOX: Principles are meaningless if you can't justify them.

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  30. The Blue Foxxx31/1/06 6:37 pm

    Your comment 'high falutin principle' was not a request for justification, more an attempt to swerve the lack of principle in your position. Not having a principle does not lead to some rational neutral state but to an an unprincipled position. The meaning of the word pretty much summing up the respect agenda.

    On the substantive issue - do you read people's replies?

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