Hounded to death.

Hounded to death.

It is gingerly, and with a great deal of trepidation, that I write today’s post. I have been struck by the awfulness of Carl Sargeant’s death on Tuesday when it appears he took his life after having been accused of misbehaviour and having lost his government position. Now, I don’t have any great affection for politicians and did not know a great deal about  Mr Sargeant before this event so why has his apparent suicide affected me ?

Firstly because it is a very obvious reminder of the terrible damage we are doing to our society and the rule of law by the ongoing hysteria in the media about sexual abuse and politicians. Clearly I would want to see any politician, of any hue, who abused any other person dealt with and punished appropriately. The promise of power and influence, that the world of politics offers, means that it will attract more than an average amount of psychopathic individuals. Therefore it is quite reasonable that we may find an above average number of people who are guilty acts of abuse in our governmental bodies. But, equally clearly, I only want guilty people punished and shamed. This distinction is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society where rules are just and punishment only justly applied when it is warranted.

One of the earliest legal treatises was the Mishneh Torah which was an attempt codify the bases of Jewish Law. In the early attempt to tease out guiding principles for a fair and just society the great philosopher Maimonides wrote :-

“It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”

as he was aware that to do otherwise was the start of a slippery slope which lead to a lawless and unjust society where conviction, not being based on an adequate burden of proof, could lead to punishment on the basis of a whim of courts and rulers. This has also been referred to as Blackstone’s Formulation after he stated “All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer“.

This principle should be considered alongside another, related legal principle, that is, the presumption of innocence. All legal systems hold this principle dear. Roman law states “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), and Islamic law, Common Law and the Civil Law all carry this basic tenet. As the public puts it “Innocent until proven guilty“. This is a principle that keeps you and I safe : we can only fall foul of the law, and be punished, if we are found guilty after trail not simply by accusation.

In the Carl Sargeant case he was treated as if her were guilty before he had a hearing. He lost his position and was treated by Carwyn Jones, The First Minister of Wales, as if the accusations were true. This is the  habit, increasingly popular, of jumping to the conclusion that accusations are truth. It is this approach which  underpins such campaigns as #IBelieveHer. Now it is understandable that we want to increase the justice for those who are victims of any form of abuse but this strategy is very dangerous. If we believe the accusers without question what is the need for a trial ? If we believe the accusers then the only thing missing is retribution. This leads us to a very dark place where people can be destroyed by malicious accusations.

 

welsh-spads

 

This photograph, might explain my concerns about this. This is a group of Welsh special advisors out for the evening celebrating on the night that they had just started the ball rolling on the case against Carl Sargeant. These are the expressions just after they have opened the floodgates of innuendo and suspicion. A colleague and erstwhile friend has been thrown to the dogs and this photograph reveals their feelings that very evening. When accusation becomes proof, accusations become dangerous and powerful political weapons which some people seem to enjoy using.

This is not the only legal principle that was ignored in Carl Sargeant’s case. He was never given details of the accusations nor knowledge of who his accusers were.  Again in English Law, Roman Law, and also the Sixth Amendment of the United States this is a ignoring a cornerstone of justice. In the Bible, when Paul was accused, it was described thus :-

“It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”

If one does not know the accusations, nor your accuser, you are effectively denied the opportunity to defend yourself. If you can not defend yourself you cannot receive justice. It has long been known that ignoring this principle would lead to injustice and would facilitate terror. The oppressive, nightmarish qualities we try to explain when we use the term “Kafkaesque” , relate to being on trial but ignorant of your accusers and their claims as so well described nn Kafka’s novel Der Process (The Trial). Secret accusations, secret courts and clandestine meetings have always been the way of the power hungry who wish to subvert justice. In this particular case it seems that it has gone further than this as there were also meetings with the accusers when their stories were discussed with all the risks of contaminating evidence of any wrong doing. This is very reminiscent of the history of the Stasi, or the Gestapo, collecting accusations so that they might prove useful against political enemies in power struggles at a future date

Carl Sargeant did not know of what he was accused nor do we. We know that it could not have been sufficient to warrant police involvement. It is likely that it was behaviour that is deemed inappropriate in our present moral climate. He might have behaved in a manner more in tune with an older generation than the present. If this is the case then it is probable that a further legal principle is  in the process of being ignored – we can only be tried for offences against the rules that applied at the time. Guilt can not be backdated. If tomorrow they pass a law outlawing drinking alcohol on Sundays,  it is this principle which protects me against them coming and punishing me for last Sunday’s drinking. I am obliged to follow the law as it is just now, not as how it might be in the future. Without this principle we could all be facing punishment in the future for some act which is not a crime at present – did you spank your child ? Did you smoke in a public place ? etc etc.  The same guideline should be used when we consider social mores and customs.

For all these reasons the story of Carl Sargeant is a sad and worrisome tale. He did not receive fair justice and now never can. We will never know the truth of these accusations as they can not be tested now that he has died, so justice will never be served. These principles are not minor bureaucratic foibles but are the foundations of our enlightened society. For the sake of all those black men lynched in the South in America, denied a trial and presumed guilty on the words of their accusers, we must fight for these principles. For the sake of all the women accused of witchcraft and killed never able to confront their accusers we need to remember how important these principles continue to be. For the sake of the very many women who are going to be accused of adultery, or other crimes in the middle east, and face death just on the basis of an accusers word we need to promote these ideas and promote civilisation.

Carl Sargeant worked hard for his community and tried to improve the world by his work in politics, I hope now that he can rest in peace. Hopefully his family will also find peace and perhaps, in time, they may see that his sad death contributed to a turning point when society turned its back on hysteria and witch hunting.

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Southwest of Salem.

Southwest of Salem.

These documentaries are the stuff of modern horror movies.  Innocents are wrongfully convicted of child sexual abuse and incarcerated and mistreated. No matter what evidence they provide to show their accusers wrong, no matter what lies and falsehoods they can reveal, the legal machinery rolls on as they see the world of reason, logic and justice desert them as they descend further and further into their nightmare.

This time it concerns four women from San Antonia. They did nothing out of the ordinary, tried to be helpful and good, but despite this were wrongfully convicted on the gang-rape of two of their nieces. Their only crime was to be homosexual at a time when bigotry against homosexuals still was a powerful force in the legal department and media, and to have been young lesbians at the time that fears of satanic cults were deranging the logic of the public and professions alike.

While it is distressing to watch these events unfold and one feels ashamed to be complicit in a society which treats people like this;  there is a positive side. The strength of character of these women, who fought on for their exoneration, and defied the system’s attempts to destroy them, is rewarding to watch. To know that some of us, in the face of dreadful adversity, can still act with integrity and dignity allows you to retain some respect for humanity.

It is a shame that we still periodically have to rely on films like this or others (Capturing the Friedmans, The Thin Blue Line, etc) to correct our legal mistakes. But hopefully these films will increase awareness of the dangers of blind faith in the legal system and its agents and perhaps make errors like these less likely to happen.

 

3170744-4-out-of-5-stars1Website : Southwest of salem

Irked rather than enraged.

Irked rather than enraged.

via Daily Prompt: Irksome

It seemed apt that the Daily Prompt today was irksome as, like many others in the UK (and probably the majority), I had been feeling irked by the success of the legal challenge raised against aspects of the process of Brexit. I say irked, as opposed to irate or enraged,  as this is a minor, and possibly inevitable and necessary, annoyance.

Why am I not enraged alongside many in the media ? Because this is haggling over minor details and unlikely to do more than cause a minor delay in the triggering of Article 50. Yes, I agree that it is having an adverse effect on the economy by extending the period of doubt and uncertainty – we have seen the effects of this already on the effect on the FTSE. Further, yes, I agree that will weaken Britain’s bargaining hand when they negotiate in Europe – it will be difficult to present a strong and resolute front when the negotiators on the other side of the table know there is so much friction and uncertainty at home.

However, these are small issues compared to the issues of democracy and sovereignty. It was these major issues on which the Brexit campaign was fought and won. I know that many feel that parliament handed authority back to the people when it agreed to a plebiscite. With a referendum the normal mechanics of representative democracy are changed to permit an episode of direct democracy. However, it appears that the wording of the Act was not sufficient to ensure this in law, leaving the referendum with an ‘advisory’ status despite the statements made that its results would be binding. We now need to amend this error. We will do this and then move on. While doing so we should ensure we do not damage our democratic institutions, it was for these that we fought. Any righteous anger that an error was made, or that we were mislead, should be kept in check.  We should be careful that we do no win the war and lose the peace.

So, if this is only tidying up a minor legal error, why is it even irritating or irksome ? It is irksome because it was not necessary. No-one was acting with malevolent intention by planning to use the Crown Prerogative (which had been used to usher in much of the EU legislation before – it could have been a delightful irony). The government was not planning anything underhand but rather trying to deliver what it thought it had promised. It is irksome not because of the governments actions but because the actions of those who brought the legal challenge acted in bad faith. They had no desire to fine tune the legal process of Brexit they wished to impede or halt it.

Gina Miller, who raised this challenge (Along with the Orwellian doublespeak group ‘The Peoples’ Challenge’), was a remainer who described herself as “stunned”, “shocked” and “alarmed”  by the results of the referendum. She was thus galvanised to to do something about it, to try and subvert the results of the democratic process by legal pettifogging. This subversion will have some negative impacts, but in the greater scale of things their effects will likely be minor. She did not act to protect our sovereignty nor to promote democracy, she, and they, acted to thwart the choice made by the majority of those who voted and to try and stem the transfer of powers back to Westminster. They used the powers we have to keep us weaker but it will be in vain. Once the people have spoken their words can not be unsaid and, after jumping some legal hurdles,  Article 50 will be triggered and the process started.

However, if I am wrong, if I have misjudged the situation and predicted wrongly, then I may be using the wrong word by saying it is “irksome”. If, albeit very unlikely, the House of Commons stood in the way of the expressed will of the people then irksome would be the wrong word. Or, if the un-elected House of Lords decided, like suicidal lemmings, to reject the results of the referendum and enforce their greater authority on the people, then irked would not be the appropriate word.

Should frankly anti-democratic steps such as those be taken then much stronger adjectives will be needed. Perhaps furious, enraged or livid might be more appropriate. However, even in the Daily Prompt proffers these words as cues it is unlikely I will see them as I, alongside many others, will not be at our screens but out on the streets.

Peter Tatchell changes his mind.

Peter Tatchell changes his mind.

Peter Tatchell has form as being a clear thinker and one who is able to see through the morass of argument and counter argument to see the moral principles at the core of current debates. therefore when he announces that he has changed his opinion on an issue we should pay heed. He has changed his mind over the issue of the Christian bakers and the gay wedding cake. He had previously supported the penalization of the Christian bakers Ashers, in Belfast, who had refused to bake a wedding cake which had a pro-gay marriage slogan. However, Mr Tatchell has argued in a piece in the  Guardian that, while it is correct to oppose discrimination against people it is wrong to take legal action against the discrimination against ideas.

He is of course correct; our freedom to think as we will is the greatest right we have. It should not be constrained by any  agencies. While some of our acts may be considered unlawful none of our thoughts should be. As Mr Tatchell recognizes, there was no discrimination against the claimants per se, rather the Ashers had refused to promote an idea to which they objected. If the current court ruling stands, the logic is that it would be illegal for a Muslim printer to reject work printing  posters with comic portrayals of Mohammed, or for a Jewish baker to reject making a cake with holocaust denial slogans.

Obviously this case was not brought following any genuine act of discrimination and true feeling of hurt. The cake was designed and offered to a Christian bakery quite deliberately to try and create a legal case in the hope that this would shift and move the law. The intention, no doubt, was to try to make society less bigoted by using the law to signpost good behaviour. However, the law of unintended consequences should never be forgotten. It is precisely minorities who benefit most from recognition of the rights to freedom of thought and freedom of association. These are the rights that protect them from the majority’s desire to compel good and appropriate behaviour as society currently defines it. We must reject attempts to interfere with these freedoms no matter how well intentioned they may appear to be.