Tuesday, 7 August 2012


I am fascinated by recent developments which give a complex, multi-layered picture of what we understand by criminal culpability and how we deal with it.  At one time it was a clear, and praiseworthy, feature of British justice that one was innocent until proven guilty.  Once proven guilty, the whole weight of British justice would fall on your head.  Yet I also thought that one was accepted back into society once punished and rehabilitated.  But these days we seem to hold slightly different views of these things.

The first case that raised questions in my mind was (is) that of Abu Qatada.  For those that don't know the case, he has been imprisoned many times in the UK in recent years for inciting racial hatred.  He is a Jordanian, living in Britain somehow, almost universally reviled and not wanted here by anyone I think.  Yet somehow we seem unable to do anything about his presence.  He has now been convicted in absentia in Jordan of terrorism crimes and they wish him to be deported to Jordan for imprisonment.  But we seem unable to deport him either, thanks to the silly European Court.  He is currently at liberty on bail and pursuing appeals through the courts.  I don't understand what he is doing in this country, but, on the other hand, however horrible a man he is, he has been convicted of no criminal offence here.  We seem to be determined to get rid of him (once the courts have lumbered through the judicial process), but somehow his guilt here has built up mostly through the media and Government statements.  The European Courts may not be so silly.  But none the less, he is convicted in his own country and should not still be at large here.

Given the above case, the case of Christopher Tappin is even more curious.  He is wanted for trial in America for allegedly selling batteries to Iran (which might have been used on missiles).  He denies the charge, but, as with Jordan, we have an extradition agreement with the US which means that, in this case, as requested, we extradited Tappin to America.  What I find difficult about this case is that Tappin is likely to be kept in an American prison for up to 2 years while his case comes before the courts.  This although he is presumed innocent (presumably).  And in this case, for some reason, the European Court refused to become involved (perhaps his being European made him less interesting to them?).  He has now been released on bail pending trial on payment of $1m - quite a sum for an innocent foreigner.  Or does the question of aiding Iran's nuclear missile programme carry more weight than his innocence?

Of more immediate currency here is the continuing News of the World saga.  When Mr Murdoch was the most influential media mogul in Britain, politicians were falling over themselves to meet him at parties or to invite his henchmen to private meals.  Such contacts can be traced back over the last 4 Governments.  Yet, now his star is in the descendant, the current media MInister (and even the PM) are under attack for their closeness to him.  The Labour leader said of the Minister, 'It beggars belief that he is still in his job'.  But it's not entirely clear to me where his guilt lies.  His office sent e-mails keeping Murdoch informed of progress on media decisions affecting him.  That seems no worse than speaking to him at a party or telephoning him, as previous PM's have done.  But there we are, I guess the Minister will have to bow to pressure and leave his job eventually, whether he is guilty of anything or not. 

Finally, on a different level, there is, pre-Olympics, a debate about the British lifetime ban on drugs cheats.  When they are caught, drug-using athletes always become contrite and often set up campaigns to help prevent other athletes making the same mistakes they made.  All very commendable.  But does this enforced change of heart mean that they are rehabilitated and should be forgiven and invited back into the British team?  I'm not so sure.  For once the rapid rehabilitation fails to impress me.  Yet how does that square with my view that rehabilitation is the aim?  Are drug cheats in sport more guilty than say a murderer that has completed his sentence? 

Clearly there is more to innocence and guilt than I used to think.  Do media and political campaigns sway my views or do they simply help increase the sense of guilt in the accused?  Should we continue to want to be shot of Abu Qatada because he is a nasty man (according to whom?  I've never met him, have you?)?  And should the British Olympic team welcome back the drug cheats, because actually they are all nice people? 

Who is guilty of what here?

No comments:

Post a Comment