Having been arrested by the police twice this year – (on both occasions by means of pre-planned ambush, and, needless to say, though I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing) – I have had cause to reflect on the legitimacy of modern policing in Britain.
I’m very happy with the original 1829 Peelian Principles (see here or here) upon which the modern British ‘policing by consent’ model is – or, increasingly, was – based.
If only the Peelian Principles were true of British policing today.
(I am a journalist, not a criminal. So why have the police spent 2019 attacking me?)
Of course, what ultimately underpins any form of policing – however relatively benign it may appear to be, and wish to portray itself as – is the State’s effective ‘monopoly on violence’, which I might more accurately describe as the State’s use of overwhelming physical force against any person in its territory, as premised upon the State granting to itself the exclusive right to do so legitimately.
Expressed in these terms, we can place civilian policing on a continuum of State-sanctioned violence which at some point crosses a line into the realms of what is really military in nature and function (if not in name).
When I was arrested, though I did not physically resist, I most certainly did not consent to being arrested!
The police were unlawfully interfering in my life and attacking me for essentially ‘political’ reasons, but, pragmatically, to have used force to defend myself against these police attacks would only have made things worse for me in the long run, because although I could’ve ‘taken out’ the three officers who ambushed me on the first occasion, or the two officers who ambushed me on the second, one man cannot indefinitely defend himself against overwhelming numbers of armed and well-resourced State agents.
Overwhelming force. State-sanctioned violence against the person . . . and State-sanctioned seizure of property and denial of liberty. Hardcore, nasty stuff we’re talking about here.
Which is all perfectly reasonable if (a) the police are in the right, and (b) the person in question really is criminal.
But a journalist, falsely-alleged to have committed ‘crimes of journalism’?
There are two basic problems here. The first derives from the abuse of the principle of the rule of law, and the second, which follows from the first, which is the abuse of Peelian principles of policing.
English criminal law used to be quite tightly defined. It used to be based largely upon common sense. The long-standing offences were obvious to all, and understood by all to be criminal. Murder. Robbery. Burglary. Etcetera.
But now we have political and/or subjective, undefined ‘crimes’ which in law are held to be crimes – but you can never know if you’ve committed one until the State tells you.
Many public order offences fall into this category. Many so-called ‘hate crimes’. And anything which is prosecuted under possibly the single worst piece of criminal law on the statute books today – the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
This evil and lunatic law, which deals with the ‘crimes’ of ‘harassment’ and ‘stalking’ (whatever they are, the law doesn’t say), is the general-purpose, catch-all Act which the State uses frequently to [try to] criminalise speech or actions which do not break any other criminal law. It is a licence for the police to act (on behalf of anybody with a grudge) to attack somebody who hasn’t done anything even remotely criminal, in any ordinary sense of the word ‘criminal’. This is the ‘crime’ of being unreasonable, the ‘crime’ of alarming or distressing one’s ‘victim’ (on two or more occasions) when one ought to have known better (according to the State, even though one may have done nothing morally wrong). In short, ‘criminal convictions’ made under this nonsensical Act are not crimes at all . . . except that the State says so, and the State has overwhelming force with which to destroy you, if you beg to differ.
An argument could be made that the PfHA97 could be much improved if, for example, it were contextualised very specifically to domestic violence, and/or if no prosecution could be brought against anybody who had not first been issued with a restraining order and who had then clearly broken that order – but it is fundamentally bad law.
Bad law is law not based upon or hostile to Judaeo-Christian morality and Biblical principles of justice, and/or which is vague about what it actually prohibits.
If a law is not (1) morally good, and (2) very explicit about its purpose and application, then in practice – regardless of how well-intended the legislature may have been – that law amounts to a licence, wide open to abuse, for grudge-bearers, police and judiciary to make it up as they go along, attacking anyone they like, however they please.
Such law removes us from the ‘rule of law’ in the true sense of that principle, and subjects us instead to the tyranny of the rule of police officers’ or magistrates’ personal opinions about what is or isn’t ‘reasonable’.
Since when was being ‘unreasonable’ (in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of some judicial office holder who doesn’t know the first thing about you) ever a crime? Answer: since 1997.
This is not really a criminal law (though if functions as such). This is really a political licence with which to control, intimidate and attack people who are not criminals in the slightest.
And it’s now an extremely nasty tool in the hands of the judiciary. Persons convicted of ‘harassment’ or ‘stalking’ can and are being sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by magistrates, or up to ten years by Crown Court judges (the more ‘serious’ parts of the Act are triable-either-way).
People are being sent down for years for ‘stalking’ (no violence, and no threat of violence in their so-called ‘offending’, and no danger to the public) and serving longer prison sentences than obviously dangerous, violent criminals. It’s an absolutely lunatic state of affairs, yet it’s legal, and that ‘legality’ is backed up by an army of truncheons and tazers and machine guns (and that’s just the ‘civilian’ police, never mind the army), so what can any individual do in the face of such ‘legal’ tyranny? Protest? Damn right. Engage in morally-justified disobedience and dissent? Quite possibly. But doing so renders one liable to ever worsening attacks by the State.
At some point – I think it really took off in the 1990s – British policing became heavily politicised, at the same time as we began to see bad law after bad law becoming the law.
I’m British; I’m all in favour of the rule of law.
But that pre-supposes that the laws are good, and that they are enforced correctly and without corruption.
I’ve no problem with good law. I’ve no problem with good police officers. I’ve no problem with good judges. Therefore I have a big problem with being British and living in my own country today.
The essential counterweight to State tyranny – such as we see running rampant in Britain today – is the power of the press to expose evil, and also the power of political protest and dissent.
In my own case, being under assault as I am by the State this year, there is a certain irony that for me, my solution to being attacked by the State is the very reason why the State attacked me in the first place.
I write. I am a journalist. I expose bad things hidden in dark places. Therefore I pose a threat to a corrupt State seeking to protect evildoers.
Well, I shall continue to write. Because I am a journalist. It’s who I am and it’s what I do. I do not consent to much of what I see happening in Britain today. In fact I dissent.
It has been said that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’. True.
But that addresses essentially external threats to a civilised society. What about the threat to one’s liberty posed by one’s own rulers?
In this regard, the price of freedom is eternal protest, eternal willingness to suffer in resisting the State’s evil, and eternal journalism.
And where is vigilance without freedom of the press?
Nowadays, in these crazy times, it seems to me that journalists are often preventing crimes where the police fail to do so.
But that’s actually in keeping with Peel.
‘The police are the public and the public are the police.’