4 years for “inciting” non-existant riots… WTF are the British authorities up to?

August 17, 2011

Yesterday (16 August 2011) Chester crown court sentenced 2 men to 4 years imprisonment for “trying” to incite riots that never actually happened. And David Cameron, who is supposed to be the prime minister of Britain, not a judge or legal commentator, said it was “very good”, adding:

“What happened on our streets was absolutely appalling behaviour and to send a very clear message that it’s wrong and won’t be tolerated is what the criminal justice system should be doing.”

Of course it’s terrible that riot and looting went on across England. But what do the riots that actually happened have to do with what Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan did? Moreover, Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan pleaded guilty to the charges – which makes me wonder what kind of low-grade legal advice they’d been given – and an early guilty plea is supposed to result in a reduced sentence. So this pair of clowns would have got maybe 10-year sentences if they’d pleaded not guilty? 10 years for not inciting a riot? What are our judges smoking before entering their court rooms?

MPs and civil rights groups have spoken out against the sentences, unsurprisingly. But what should be surprising is that prime minister Cameron said the sentences were “very good” – before adding that it is down to the courts to decide sentences. So, which is it, Cameron? Do judges have the discretion on sentencing here? Or are you sending (barely) concealed message to the court that anyone who says anything not in line with his beliefs deserves to rot in jail for as long as possible?

In Britain, the government proposes laws. Parliament debates, fine-tunes then passes the laws. And the police and courts enforce those laws. Cameron shouldn’t be telling judges how to do their jobs. Lord Carlile, the government’s former terror advisor accused ministers of appearing to “steer” the courts into handing down the more stringent sentences. Lord Carlile, a barrister and former Liberal Democrat MP warned that the sacrosanct separation of powers between the government and the judiciary had appeared to have been breached by some of the messages coming out of government since the riots engulfed neighbourhoods last week.

Fortunately, not all judges have been castrated by Cameron and his henchmen. The same Evening Standard article reports that a court in Bury St Edmund’s let a teenager walk free after his guilty plea. He had sent Facebook messages saying “”I think we should start rioting – it’s about time we stopped the authorities pushing us about. It’s about time we stood up for ourselves for once so come on riot – get some – LoL” Bad, to be sure, but hardly evil. His barrister said his client “had been a bit of a prat” – which pretty sums up Blackshaw’s and Sutcliffe-Keenan’s actions too.

Also, a Lambeth teenager who had been caught on CCTV hurling sticks and spades at officers, was allowed to walk free after his uncle, a Premier League football player, offered him somewhere to live outside of London.

This variation in judicial decisions is good, as it demonstrates that not all judges are bowing and scraping before their governmental overlords. But it is clear that a substantial number of judges are all too keen to please their masters. In the Guardian, Lord Carlile said:

“I don’t think it’s helpful for ministers to appear to be giving a steer to judges. The judges in criminal courts are mostly extremely experienced and well capable of making the decisions themselves. Ministers should focus on securing the safety of the public.”

The lord, who served for six years under Labour and the coalition until March as the government’s anti-terror adviser, added: “”Some judges may feel that and some ministers may feel that they have had a responsibility to use the language of sentences rather than policy.”

The authorities doubtless think it’s important to stamp down hard on some people’s recent behaviour. But that doesn’t mean the courts should become kangaroo courts blindly following the government’s instructions. Every single case is different, and each should be dealt with on its own merits. The government is beginning to see the consequences of its actions and policies; and they are scared of those consequences. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, they should try to fix the damage they have done. Otherwise today’s Britain will be just like the 1980s, when widespread civil unrest rocked the country.

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Social unrest? Blame the internet!

August 12, 2011

The past few days’ rioting in England are all due to the internet, says prime minister David Cameron.

So news of riots spread via the internet/facebook/twitter etc etc. So now Dodgy Dave says that Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion (Rim), the maker of BlackBerry devices, should take more responsibility for content posted on their networks, warning the government would look to ban people from major social networks if they were suspected of inciting violence online.

Yes, the news spread via the internet. But it also spread via the telephone, snail mail, newspapers, television, word-of-mouth. So shouldn’t we just ban communication outright?

Heck, I better get this posted then get out of here, before the government bans me!

Riot police watch a London bus burn

[If you wanna see more pretty pictures of the riots in London, go to the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” feature – link here.]

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Politics Explained FFS part 3

August 1, 2011

As the title says, this is part 3 of my attempt to explain how politics works. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.

In the first 2 parts, I’ve tried to explain how politics works. In this part I’m going to try and describe what I consider a much better way to do stuff. I’m going to describe how this would work in England, as that’s where I live. (I’m not forgetting Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland here – I just think it would be very arrogant for me to tell the denizens of those regions how to run things. And that’s the key: regions.)

Remember that I said that majority rule doesn’t scale? How as the population increases, so does the number of disaffected people? Well, majority rule can work with smaller populations. But how do we make population smaller? Well, if we decide not to go the death camp route, and we don’t disenfranchise women and the poor to reduce the voting population only one way seems possible to me: we make big old England into a number of regions, each of which will have its own government.

There are lots of ways we can split England into regions: for sake of argument, I’m going to suggest we use ye olde kingdoms which once comprised England – see the map below:

As you can see, England once comprised of 4 kingdoms: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex (ignore Wales – the welsh can look after themselves). As London has such a high population, I think it would be fairer to make Greater London a region of its own, rather than making it part of Wessex. So, my England is split into five self-ruling regions: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, and London. Each region will have its own government, elected by its population using whatever method they prefer (I think majority rule would be okay on this scale). And each region will be pretty much independent – setting its own policies, raising its own taxes, providing education and health care however it wishes.

Of course, the regions would not be able to handle everything by themselves. On some matters, it would be wise for them to work together. Foreign policy is an example, as is defence against other countries. Wessex (for example) would be too weak to stand up for itself against many other countries, and it would not be capable of maintaining a powerful military presence. This is where the regions will act as one. They will maintain a combined military: an army, navy and air force to protect shared interests.

The smaller nature of the regions as compared to England as a whole would make possible some very radical ways to elect their governments. One that I’m interested in is compulsory participation in government. I don’t mean just compulsory voting. Imagine a system, similar to jury duty, where citizens will be called up to become a member of parliament for a certain amount of time. I’ve always been rather suspicious of politicians: these are people who have chosen a career of telling everyone what to do. I’m sure that some people venture into politics because they want to “help”. But when you look carefully at politicians, you may find that they’re an unsavoury bunch – look at the MPs’ expenses controversy in Britain. Politicians wringing the expenses system for every penny they can. This image doesn’t sit well with the idea that these people entered politics as a vocation. So we do away with the idea of professional politicians and replace it with a system where everyone gets to have a go at it. Of course, these amateur politicians will need experts to advise them. But couple this idea with a system of more referenda on issues (like the Swiss system, perhaps) and we have politicians with no vested interests enacting the wishes of their peers.

Of course, these ideas are radical and also very sketchy: but I’m not pretending that I’ve thought it all through. I’m just throwing my ideas out there, for others to examine and criticise. So come on folks: let’s see what you have to say!

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