Friday, 6 June 2008

42 Days

It appears that the DPP doesn't want it, neither do the previous Attorney General and Lord Chancellor, the police appear by their silence to be at least ambivalent about it and now a past prime minister in what must be his most pointed intervention since leaving office in 1997 has cast grave on yet another restriction on our civil liberties.  Or, as someone wrote during the 90 day fiasco, just pluck another figure out of the air!  So why is the government persisting with the 42 day proposal when it appears most people simply do not see or accept the justification being claimed.  Jacqui Smith has let the cat out of the bag in her Spectator article in which she says that if it were a vote of confidence in the government it would pass easily.  So it's all about macho-politics and the need for the Prime Minister to reassert his authority over his government.  That's no justification for policy.

The government's case appears to be this.  We might in the future need to keep a suspect without charge in custody beyond the current inflated 28 days so that we can collect evidence, so it's a valid insurance policy.  There is an old adage that says 'work expands to fill the time available' so if it's 42 days you can guarantee that, despite the spurious parliamentary safeguards, the time will be used.  Then there's the argument that we need to balance civil liberties with the need to combat the 'war on terror'.  Now that's a better position to take but has been fatally flawed by the use local authorities have made of anti-terrorism legislation to snoop on people who appear to be lying about where they live to get their children into the schools of their choice.  Whatever the justification of checking on those individuals who try to buck the system for their own or their families benefit, using anti-terrorism legislation to do this resembled the proverbial hammer and nut. 

Government of whatever hue appears to be under the impression that you can legislate problems away.  Whether it's knife crime or binge drinking or rubbish bins, the first inclination of government appears to be to head for the statute book.  Law only works effectively with consent and increasingly it appears that many people do not consent to having their behaviour changed by ham-fisted and often badly drafted legislation.  By legislating too much, government dilutes the value of all legislation, good or otherwise.  We should be legislating less rather than trying to micro-manage people's lives.  Yes, government should inform, advise and warn people.  It should pass legislation where necessary but defining personal responsibility in terms of legislation and not allowing individuals to take responsibility for their own actions will mean that increasingly legislative and personal responsibility will merge, the ultimate political control.

If there is justification for 42 days other than it might be needed, then the government should present it.  Global terrorism is real and needs to be combated since it threatens the fundamental values of a democratic society.  By increasing the powers of the state and reducing the liberties that have been won over centuries, we are in danger of doing the terrorists' job for them.  We are already have more camera surveillance than any country on the globe, our anti-terrorism legislation is seen as increasingly draconian and is increasingly being misused by officials who appear not to be accountable to anyone and we appear, in many people's eyes to be sleepwalking into a police state.  In these circumstances, macho-politics is inappropriate, offensive and dangerous.  Think again, Gordon.

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