Tag Archives: police

Coroners and Justice Bill: the most toxic law ever?

The Coroners and Justice Bill went through its second reading at the start of this week. If you read blogs, you will probably have heard about the clauses hidden away at the end of it which threaten to effectively neutralise the Data Protection Act. If you read my first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty you will have read my comment about it also giving the government the power to hold inquests in secret.

But that isn’t all. Justice outline their concerns about this Bill as follows (emphasis mine):

– the provisions for secret inquests;
– the restriction of public comment by inquest jurors and coroners on matters of legitimate public concern;
– the holding of inquests without juries in relation to some deaths involving public authorities;
– the implementation of new partial defences to murder in the absence of wholesale reform of the law of homicide;
overbroad criteria for the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials;
– amendments to bail legislation in murder cases which are on their face incompatible with Article 5 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR);
– the near-total undermining of the Data Protection Act 1998 through allowing ministers to authorise disclosure and use of data to serve policy objectives.

But even that isn’t all. Not content with the prohibition of “extreme pornography” (which also came in this week), the Coroners and Justice Bill will also “ban the possession of any image involving sexual activity and children. For the purpose of the law, an image is said to contain a child if ‘the impression conveyed … is that the person shown is a child’.” I blogged about this proposal last year but didn’t realise it had made it into an actual bill.

Now this is a minefield of an issue to blog about because of its emotive nature. I realise that even by raising the subject I’m leaving myself open to attack. Pornographic images of actual children (as opposed to images of actual children that individuals may happen to find erotic) is obviously wrong as they involve children beneath the age of consent. But what if the image is a cartoon? And what if that cartoon is of an adult character who happens to look young? Fundamentally, if no actual harm is being caused, what is the offence? The mind is repelled by the idea of child pornography, but if we look at it clearly for a second, aren’t we talking here about thoughtcrime?

This isn’t just an issue for “lolicon.” Probably the most significant example of a work which appears to fall foul of this prospective new law is Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, an erotic work about the sex lives of Alice (in Wonderland), Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) and Wendy (Peter Pan). But there are numerous other examples of comics, manga in particular, which feature childlike characters in erotic situations. And how will this law apply to Delirium, from the Sandman series – a character frequently portrayed as childlike in appearance, despite wearing immodest clothing. How will the censors react to this line (illustrated in the book Brief Lives)?

“Touched by her fingers, the two surviving chocolate people copulate desperately, losing themselves in a melting frenzy of lust, spending the last of their brief borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear.”

We seem to have lost this anxiety about prose over forty years ago; so how are images so fundamentally different?

Interestingly, it looks as if these concerns are starting to surface in the comics industry itself, with the Telegraph reporting the website Comic Shop Voice expressing concerns about this new law, along with the broad definition of extreme pornography found in the Criminal Justice Act 2008. To what extent Comic Shop Voice are representative of the industry remains to be seen (I am investigating), but I would suggest that a wakeup call is needed.

This might sound paranoid, but I invite you to consider the following: firstly, the examples of the police using their powers come up with new and ever more authoritarian ways are legion. How many times have we seen photographers and protestors being arrested under terrorism laws for example? The fact that War on Terror boardgame can be confiscated on the grounds that the enclosed balaclava could be used for criminal activities tells me all I need to know. Secondly, there is the Lord Horror case. I seem to recall there being a number of other police raids on comic shops during the 1990s but since they were before the mass expansion of the internet I’m struggling to find confirmation of this.

We may not be living in a police state, but paranoid, authoritarian policing is certainly on the rise (cf. Form 696; Section 27 orders on football supporters). Paul Stephenson’s appointment as head of the Met does not exactly fill me with confidence. I’m pleased that the Lib Dems voted against the Coroners and Justice Bill at second reading (it is notable – and lamentable – that the Tories decided to abstain). What will emerge from the Committee Stage and the Lords remains to be seen.

Kawczynski is a disgrace

In a very short term, Daniel Kawcynski has, for me, come to represent everything that is venal about the Conservative Party. I’ve already written about him a couple of times, about his fact-free attack on electoral reform and his equally evidence-lite claim that evil liberals were trying to stir up hatred against Poles. Now he has turned his particular line in smear at the police, already (justly) reeling from the Damien Green affair.

There are several ways in which this is not at all like the Damian Green affair. For a start, it would appear that the police were investigating a serious issue. Sending white powder to a minister, post 2001, is a genuinely big deal. If there was an attack – and we have no reason to assume there wasn’t – then I would expect any MP to cooperate with the police. But even if this wasn’t the case, after the incidents of November last year no MP can be in any doubt about what the police can and can’t do. They didn’t have a warrant and so if Kawczynski didn’t feel like cooperating he should have simply shown them the door.

Except of course he has to have it both ways. So rather than turfing them out, he cooperated with their “intimidating” request while at the same time whinging about it on the floor of the House.

It is hard to see what case the police have to answer here. Worse, while the Green affair genuinely did raise some important questions, shouting about the Kawczynski One threatens to trivialise all that.

At a time when the State is taking a turn for the sinister, it is all the more important not to cry wolf. That Damian Green chose to sit next to Kawczynski and thus symbolically support his complaint to the Speaker, suggests that the Tories as a whole have got this whole business out of proportion.

Andrew Pelling MP becomes punchline to much loved joke

On the one hand, this story is yet another example of the paranoia that is dominating the police at the moment. It is telling that the only MP who seems to be happy about the situation is a man who had the whip withdrawn for assault allegations (now dropped).

On the other hand, it does remind me of that old joke about tarmac.

Dangerous Complacency over the Damian Green affair

Sniping at Tory mendacity aside, I can’t help but feel a palpable sense of complacency in the Observer today over the Damian Green affair.

First up, we have the normally sensible Vernon Bogdanor. WTF? It doesn’t take a Professor of Government at Oxford University to tell you that the police actions were constitutional. The “virtue” of our unwritten constitution is that pretty much anything the state decides to do is, unless Parliament has the foresight to see that it might happen and the backbone to prevent it (that would be a no, then). The real question is whether it should happen in a democratic state. And here it gets murky: I would be the first to argue that individual MPs should have some kind of exemption from the law. But that isn’t the same thing as saying that the office of Member of Parliament should be treated in the same way. I am hardly the first to point out that we expect MPs to deal with confidential information on a daily basis. It may well be the case the 19th century convention dictates that parliamentary privilege is limited to the floor of the Commons itself, but we live in the 21st century now. If that privilege doesn’t extend to MP’s hard drives and filing cabinets, it bloody well should do. And the whole point about conventions is that they can be revised with a wave of the hand. All it took was Michael Martin to say no, and that would be that.

Bogdanor also magics up this straw man:

‘If an MP were accused of theft and keeping stolen goods in his office at the House of Commons, should he be exempt from a police investigation?’

…to which the answer is of course no, but how can you compare that to receiving leaked information? If the test is, did Green do anything as serious as theft, then it is a test he will almost certainly pass by any measure. It is an utterly daft thing to say.

Andrew Rawnsley nails a lot of Bogdanor’s flummery in his article, pointing out that the 18th century law that Green was arrested under should have, if it was not a dinosaur statute that should have been scrapped alongside the law banning Welshmen from Chester years ago, have resulted in both Gordon Brown and Winston Churchill being banged up. But so caught up in the political mess of it all, Rawnsley too lapses into complacency, arguing that because the government is the big political loser in all this, and because no-one is being arrested for calling the UK a “police state” we have very little to worry about.

Yet this is classic wedge politics. I’m trying to avoid referring to boiling frogs here, because that is an unforgiveable cliche, but how much more ground do we have to give up before people like Rawnsley will accept that enough is enough? As he more or less acknowledges in his article, yet another line has been crossed. We’ve had two solid decades of lines being crossed now. The fact that we don’t live in a police state (and we don’t) doesn’t mean we can afford to dismiss it every time we take a baby step in that direction.

It can be no coincidence that this arrest happened during an interregnum period at the Met and a day after Parliament “prorogued” (a fancy word people use to make themselves sound intelligent which means Parliament wasn’t sitting, as it won’t do until Wednesday). Equally deliberate was Jacqui Smith’s act on Andrew Marr this morning, waggling her eyebrows meaningfully and casting innuendo about how there may (or may not) be important principles of national security at hand here (bombs! terrorism!) while, oxymoronically, continuing to emphasise the right of opposition MPs to “embarrass the government” (which speaks volumes about her real attitude towards scrutiny).

Ironically though, if the issue behind the raid is genuinely as serious as Smith implies, the way the police went about it was even less forgiveable. If this really is a matter of national security, then both Cameron and Green (Clegg too would be nice) should have been invited to a meeting in New Scotland Yard, had the nature of the threat spelled out to them, and asked for cooperation. Is anyone seriously suggesting that they wouldn’t have complied? In the event, the high profile of this arrest would have almost certainly damaged any corresponding intelligence work.

But the most startling thing about the Observer today is what’s missing: no article by Henry Porter. This is the journalist who has chronicled Labour’s raid on civil liberties for the past half decade and who has been warning of just this sort of behaviour. So what does the Observer do? Give him a day off. Notably, there isn’t a “Henry Porter is away” notice at the bottom of William Dalrymple‘s piece where Porter’s column can normally be found.

Notwithstanding the importance of the Mumbai massacre, it is an odd decision. It isn’t as if they dedicated pages elsewhere to the Damian Green affair – it only warranted a single page of news.

Thanks largely to Henry Porter, the Observer has acquired a strong reputation as a champion of civil liberties. I do hope that, as it comes to the crunch, it doesn’t start getting cold feet.

UPDATE: Henry Porter has an article today about the Damian Green incident on Comment is Free. Judging by the length, I’m guessing it was written for Sunday’s Observer.

We may live in a police state, but at least we don’t live in their police state

So, what to make of the incarceration of Damo Green? We, not to disagree with a word of what Nick Clegg has to say, I find myself siding with Justin McKeating at the same time.

It IS very worrying, but I find it difficult sympathising with the plight of a party which – when in power – introduced a law which meant that the sound of the members of a certain political party’s voices could not be legally broadcast and who – if they ever do get back into power – would scrap the Human Rights Act (replacing it, at some point, with a vague and amorphous British Bill of Rights which they have stated would afford less rights to individuals suspected of criminal offenses) and hand the police even more powers.

Over the years I’ve often hoped for a bit more self-awareness in Conservative politicians and I realise it is a forlorn wish. They are the stupid party for a reason, after all. But you never know.

Metropolitan Police release Total Perspective Vortex (beta)

The Metropolitan Police have launched a beta version of their new crime mapping website. It’s a simple enough Google Maps mash up but I found it highly addictive.

It could be improved – for one thing a break down of crimes by type would be useful. But it does take the figures down to sub-ward level, which is particularly handy.

Overall though, my main reaction to it is probably as it should be: so what? It turns out I live in an “average” area for crime and by “average” I mean there was one recorded crime in June and three in May. Some of the areas neighbouring this crime cesspit have even lower recorded incidents. Where I work, things are slightly worse – 7 incidents in June within my sub-ward. But even then it is surrounded by more average areas. The overall picture is far from a city under seige.

For H2G2, Douglas Adams invented the Total Perspective Vortex – an instrument torture designed to show you exactly how small and insignificant you really are. While I’m sure the Metropolitan Police’s new mashup isn’t powered by a piece of fairy cake, it does have a similar effect. I know the Daily Mail were demanding this sort of thing a few months ago, but I suspect they will end up loathing it as it will (literally) put them in their place.

Ban my games of DEATH!

The One Ring - as found in Lord of the Rings RiskAlix’s announcement that the boardgame War on Terror has been seized by police worried that people might use the “EVIL” balaclava included in it for nefarious acts has got me wondering: what other subversive components lurk within my boadgame sets? I would suggest the following; if the Metro Police would care to raid my house and confiscate them they are welcome to as long as they don’t mind me mocking them mercilessly:

  • Lord of the Rings Risk contains a replica of The One Ring. Invisibility would be very handy for committing criminal acts and anyone owning a copy of this game may inadvertantly be fooled into thinking that this bit of tin will enable them to hide in ladies’ dressing rooms for acts of voyeurism.
  • While Ideology (note to self: second edition is out – check to see if the playing pieces are better quality than the 1st ed) also allows players to play the role of such admirable belief systems as capitalism and imperialism, it also has a darker side. Communism, Fascism and Islamism are all included and by suggesting that these have certain “advantages” the innocent may be seduced into believing such ideals. Filth!
  • The playing pieces in Puerto Rico may officially be known as “colonists” but given their colour and the fact that you play plantation owners, it isn’t hard to work out what they really represent. A clear breach of the Race Relations Act. Similarly, the Robber in Settlers of Catan is unforgiveable (and let’s not get into all that “wood for sheep” business).
  • Ca$h’n’Gun$ – with real, live (foam) guns. Need I say more?

And that isn’t even mentioning the fact that Monopoly turns the most sane, reasonable of individuals into sociopathic bastards. Fundamentally, with all these games out there, it’s a wonder we have a society left!

Why has the Police Federation allowed the BNP to co-opt them? (UPDATE)

Hugh Muir reports:

And while we are continuing police inquiries, what do we know following their famous march on London? The event itself was peaceful; the least we could expect, but why was Richard Barnbrook, the BNP mayoral candidate for London and “visionary artist” allowed to take a prominent place at the front? Many forces ban their officers from membership of the BNP, as does the Association of Chief Police Officers. Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate and former deputy assistant commissioner at the Met, raised the issue with the organisers, who proceeded – in an orderly fashion – to do nothing. Yesterday BNPtv posted its lengthy footage of Barnbrook interviewing a federation official from Essex police. The disreputable in league with the disgruntled. Hard to know which is worse.

You can watch the film on YouTube. Barnbrook can clearly be seen at the front of the demonstration along with the police’s other high profile supporters (including Susan Kramer, although she seems to have put as much distance between him and her as possible) while the Secretary of the Essex Police Federation Roy Scane (and there is no way a policeman with such a role could possibly not know who Barnbrook is) happily gives Barnbrook an extended interview.

This is of course exactly the kind of tacit approval that the BNP crave. Is the Police Federation nuts?

It’s good to see Brian Paddick’s political radar in full working order however.

UPDATE: The Evening Standard has more on this. How about this for a pathetic/vaguely sinister excuse from the Police Federation:

“Some of my colleagues saw we had the BNP Mayoral candidate with us. The one thing we want to make clear is we didn’t invite him. It wasn’t a closed march. He chose to attend by his own accord which is his right in a democracy. It is disappointing if anyone chose to join the march for their own agenda.

“We didn’t ask him to leave because whether we like it or not we live in a democracy.”

In a democracy you certainly can refuse to allow an individual to lead a public demonstration from the front. You simply ask him to leave. I somehow doubt even the BNP would be uncooperative with a crowd of 22,000 coppers. And you are certainly not required to provide him with a friendly interview with one of your regional officials.

And what’s with this ambivalence about living in a democracy? Are they on a mission to lose public sympathy?

Ian Blair must go

When I logged onto Facebook a few minutes ago, I was surprised that there didn’t seem to be a group calling for Sir Ian Blair to resign, so I took the liberty of setting one up before I get invited to “Support Chris Clegg/Nick Huhne (delete as appropriate) and his heroic campaign to get rid of Sir Ian Blair”:

The Buck Stops Here

I’m utterly baffled as to why he isn’t already gone. Whatever happened to people taking responsibility for the organisation they are in charge of? The only person in public life who appears to have understood the concept of responsibility was Menzies Campbell, and his only “crime” was being too old at the wrong time.

By contrast, not only does Blair want to stay, but he wants a bonus for his troubles. His position is simply untenable.