Sunday, December 21, 2008

fruit of the poisoned tree

This week we've had the Piccadilly bunglebombers' convictions, but more importantly the first conviction for "directing terrorism". This was the case in which the suspect's fingernails were torn out by the Pakistani intelligence service; he claims, and I see no reason whatsoever to doubt this, that he was questioned between bouts of torture by British officials. But this isn't what worries me.

It's that the poison is seeping into the courts. This particular one was willing not only to accept that, as the case didn't strictly rest on information from Pakistan, the torture was inadmissible, it was willing to determine this in secret and issue a ruling which is itself secret, before proceeding to a trial by jury. The secret ruling was of course secret from the jury. I really cannot imagine how this is meant to amount to a fair trial. And then there is the de Menezes inquest, where the coroner simply decided that no verdict that implied the police did anything wrong was acceptable.

In the bunglebombers' case, meanwhile, we had the astonishing conviction of a man for "withholding information" where the information in question was an e-mail message in an account which the Crown accepted had not been accessed since some time before the message arrived. You can now become a terrorist by not checking your e-mail frequently enough.

And I really have no idea how we would go about reversing this. After the long and successful fight over detentions under ATCSA2001, and the partially successful one over control orders, it seems that this is as nothing to the broader deterioration. As someone said in a quite different context,
Someone asked for onbeforeunload, so I started fixing it. Then I found that there was some rot in the drywall. So I took down the drywall. Then I found a rat infestation. So I killed all the rats. Then I found that the reason for the rot was a slow leak in the plumbing. So I tried fixing the plumbing, but it turned out the whole building used lead pipes. So I had to redo all the plumbing. But then I found that the town's water system wasn't quite compatible with modern plumbing techniques, and I had to dig up the entire town. And that's basically it.
One thing that specifically worries me is that the judiciary's record of opposing the security state in some super-high profile cases conflicts with its opposing, Huttonite tendency of doing quite outrageous things rather than face the prospect of State agents lying. Everyone remembers some of these cases; the risk is that they serve as an institutional alibi.

This is no theoretical question, either. All the data shows that we're heading for an inconclusive election (or rather, one which actually represents the distribution of opinion in the electorate). You can be certain that there will be no help from the Tories on this score. But what terms can the Liberals insist on that would actually achieve something? What legislation could be repealed that would have a clear signalling effect? I'm not optimistic; I fear that if they were to make anything worth arguing for part of the price for coalition or toleration, there would simply be a Labservative government, a "grand coalition of the I'm all right, Jacks" as the Germans say. A club for the self-protection of the parties who corrupted our institutions to this extent in the first place.


Fellow Traveller said...

So you can now be convicted of withholding information from the Police even if that information doesn't not reside in your mind and you've no awareness of its existence but it does reside in some database you legally own?

How will this affect telecoms and internet service providers since they record and retain (by law) information on their subscribers and this information could be useful to the Police and yet they've not passed it on as they don't actively monitor it (or so they tell us). If simple possession without knowledge can convict they should end up in jail in numerous cases.

Metatone said...

Thankyou for making the critical observation that the small, individual decisions about what evidence counts, what verdicts are available can be as important as the big ticket legislation that gets a lot of the attention.

Also, kudos for you since you note (correctly IMO) that this aspect is something the Tories are not at all bothered by.

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