I’m going to be talking broadly and generally today, but there are some very specific things underlying my thoughts. There are also legal implications to these issues, which is why I’m going to talk obliquely.
In the UK, it is understood that we are policed by consent. There are a lot of people, the police do not carry guns and so viable policing depends on public co-operation. When people riot, as they did last summer, that relationship has broken down, and it is very difficult to fix. We can only be policed by consent if we agree with the laws and the methods of the police. In a healthy, and functional State, the police themselves are governed by the rule of law and answerable to the politicians, who in turn are answerable to the electorate. Policing by consent works because there is a degree of scope for response when things go wrong. We have a police complaints commission. We take death in custody seriously. I have no doubt we could do better on that score, because there is always scope to do better in all things.
It’s not just the police who have the right to police us, though. To a certain extent we are also policed by the inland revenue, customs and excise, border control, the TV licensing people, the car tax people, we have council tax, VAT… all kinds of situations in which all kinds of people in official places are empowered to make us do certain things. The systems we have as a country require this, the raising of revenue for government depends upon it. Most of these structures are reasonably fair, reasonably transparent, and reasonably possible to work with. There are also systems in place for complaints, and a limit on exactly how much damage any one of these outfits can do to you if you fall foul of them. The vast majority of government run policing outfits do not have the power to entirely destroy your life, and this is as it should be.
I am very glad to say that there are laws in this country governing what any person or organisation with power, is able to do to an individual who does not have power. I think one of the most important things laws can do is give protection to the weak and vulnerable from those with the power and influence to just crush them on a whim. The measure of a country is its treatment of its poorest and most vulnerable people. We could do better. There is always scope to do better.
However, all of these checks and balances depend on a number of things. If an individual does not know their rights, and does not know the law, they cannot call on it anything like as effectively. If a person believes that the system is bound to be hostile to them, the odds are they won’t even take the risk of seeking justice. We are getting better, the ordeal of taking a man to court for rape is not as hideous as it was. It’s still pretty awful. We are not quite so institutionally prejudiced against people for reasons of race, affluence, gender, sexuality or religion. But it is also fair to say that we are not entirely free from prejudice either. There are biases and assumptions. That we can still even ask what a rape victim was wearing suggests we assume a person can bring rape upon themselves. We still blame the victims, we still look far too kindly on money, we still make it hard for poorer people to access justice. We also have a legal system so vast and convoluted that a normal person cannot hope to know all of the law. Not knowing the law as it pertains to you, is not a legal defence. This is a breeding ground for injustice. It disadvantages the less literate, the less mentally astute, the less educated and those who cannot afford to buy advice at every turn. We cannot uphold the law, unless we have a fighting chance of knowing and understanding the law.
And so it is that there are people, and organisations, who are successfully abusing power, using the language of law to threaten and intimidate, and manipulating a flawed, but well meaning system, in order to persecute people. But they’ve got lawyers, and I have not. They can afford to sue me into the ground if I speak out. They know where I live.
I believe that laws should protect the weak and vulnerable from those who are already too powerful. I believe in freedom of speech and I am utterly opposed to abuses of power. And I have absolutely no idea what could happen to me, here in England, were I to go public about what I think is happening. I could just sit on it, and hope that none of the bad stuff happens to me, and try to ignore the people I know who are suffering. But I won’t. I also know there’s at least one journalist subscribed to this blog. I’m open to suggestions.