15 August 2006

How Do You Know?

Via BBC News comes this incredulous story:
"The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is consulting members on whether to seek the authority to punish people without going to court."
I shit ye not. Included in their proposals to circumvent our criminal justice system are (my comments in italics):
  • The power for police to deal with "town centre yobs" by excluding them for an "appropriate period" while they are given an informal warning or made to pay a fixed-penalty fine: "Oi guv, I don't like the look of them kids, shall we take a tenner off 'em?"
  • Powers for a "neighbourhood constable" - armed with local knowledge - with the right to hand out a three-month ban on gang members causing disorder on estate from associating in public: For "neighbourhood constable" read "local nosy git".
  • The ability for police to seize and crush cars driven by those repeatedly driving without registration or insurance, no driving licence or MOT. Instant driving bans could also be imposed ahead of a court appearance: The introduction of "guilty until proven innocent".
  • Knife crime could be targeted by giving police the ability to stop and search based on "reasonable suspicion" from previous convictions: No fair enough, I'll give them this one.


All of this reminds we I had with a close friend of mine, who proposed that if the police know someone is guilty, they should be allowed to beat them up.
Rather than go straight on to the bit about official police brutality I challenged him on by what standard would the police need to prove they knew that person was guilty. He just, despite several nudges, kept repeating "if they know", without stating how this would be proved... He's a nice guy really, honest!
But this little exchange does highlight one of the reasons we have the criminal justice system that we do: to prove someone is guilty of an offence. The system is not some troublesome procedural hurdle that needs to be circumvented at all costs - which seems to be what this whole "rebalancing" argument is really about - it is there to protect all of us from arbitrary detention and wrongful imprisonment. And not only that, it promotes confidence in the rule of law and the government as a whole, as they are seen to be giving justice in a transparent, public setting - not through a ticket handed out in some dark alleyway by a copper that's got the hump.

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