Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More on the rule of law

I've already had a few posts recently about the rule of law and I suppose it's possible that some people aren't getting fed up with me banging on about it, but JuliaM on Ambush Predator highlights a recent case that calls into question whether the rule of law still applies even in our courts.

A Southend peace campaigner arrested with a seven-inch knife outside 10 Downing Street has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on a charge of having a bladed article in a public place in July ...

How could they fail to reach a verdict on that charge? He clearly had the "bladed article" in a public place so how could they reach any other conclusion besides "guilty"?

According to one of the principles of the rule of law, nobody may be above the law. This person was clearly guilty of breaking the law, but the jury couldn't make their minds up! How bizarre is that? Well - in this day and age - not very.

We saw with the Kingsnorth vandalism case that juries are prepared to acquit people regardless of the law if they think that person had good enough mitigating circumstances - but mitigating circumstances should not be pertinent to the issue of whether someone is guilty or not - only to the kind of sentence they get.

This is a very worrying trend for me. It suggests that some people are above the law if they convince enough people on the jury that they had a justifiable reason for breaking the law - and that undermines, once more, one of the principles of the rule of law. Effectively, this tells people that if they think they are justified in doing so they may break the law.

Juries are supposed to base their verdicts solely on the evidence presented. Increasingly they are not doing so - and by failing to do so they are undermining the very principles upon which our legal system is based. If the courts fail to uphold the rule of law then what sort of message does that send to the rest of the nation?


Anonymous said...

It is common sense in some form. Its not knives that commit knife crime, its the people holding them.

A full discussion on that is not seen as desirable by media and govt.


Because certain ethnic realities would become glaringly apparent and we cant have that can we.

Much safer to steer the debate towards the ultimately sterile environment of possession of knives (and guns)

Anonymous said...

"Juries are supposed to base their verdicts solely on the evidence presented."

In that case, what's the point of having a jury? The judge can do that for himself.

The whole reason why our ancestors demanded trial by jury, and the reason why governments are trying so hard to destroy it, is precisely because twelve of their peers could determine whether they had done something worthy of punishment; only one person in twelve had to disagree with the law in order for you to be acquitted. Unpopular laws were simply unenforceable.

I don't know anything about this case, but imagine you were on a jury in Nazi Germany and the defendant was clearly guilty of protecting his Jewish neighbour from being shipped off to a death camp to be murdered; would you really find them guilty, or acquit them because the law itself was evil?

If you would acquit, then you clearly don't believe that 'the rule of law' is absolute. If you would find them guilty, well, you're evil too.

Stan said...

"In that case, what's the point of having a jury? The judge can do that for himself."

You have a jury so that you are not subject to any one person's interpretation of the evidence. You have 12 people in a jury to minimise the possibility of any one person holding undue influence over the other members.

An important point to remember with the rule of law - as I pointed out in the previous posts on the subject - is that the rule of law is only absolute if their is an absolute judge. That judge, in my opinion, is God, not the state.

So, rather than asking would I be prepared to acquit you were to ask woould I be the person who helped the Jew in Nazi Germany the answer is yes - because the ultimate judge of my actions would be God, not Hitler, and he would approve of my actions. In that way the rule of law IS absolute.

IN response to your scenario as presented - the answer lies in Christ's words - "Render unto Caesar ...".

If I were to be the person who helped the Jew escape the Nazis would God consider me evil? No. If I were to find someone guilty of breaking the law of the state would God consider me evil? No. It does not matter if YOU think I am evil - ultimately you are not my judge. Only God is.

Your comment highlights the vital role God plays in the application of the rule of law - because without Him the rule of law can not be, as you say, absolute - or if it is then that means the state is absolute. In other words - which do you prefer; an omnipresent God or any omnipresent state?