Riot prosecutions raise questions over due process and human rights

Ben Scicluna on Flickr Creative Commons BY-NC-ND

The handling of legal cases from the UK riots that took place last week has caused a great deal of controversy. Lawyers in the UK have posed some serious questions about the way that judges and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have dealt with defendants, with major concerns around due process.

The vast majority of the defendants will be on legal aid, given that the Legal Services Commission has been underfunded for the last decade this massive influx of cases will put even more pressure on a system already on the brink of collapse. With such large numbers of defendants, the duty solicitor system has been overrun. Many defendants have received only a phonecall from a duty solicitor. Lawyers have expressed concern over the waiting time to see a duty solicitor potentially leading to detainees opting not to be represented in order to go home sooner.

Another area of concern is around the pressure on the CPS to deal with these defendants as quickly as possible leading to rushed decisions to charge, rather than bail pending investigation. This leads on to questions around evidence gathering and disclosure. Given that these cases are being dealt with so quickly, and the thousands of hours of CCTV footage, hundreds of witness reports and other evidence sources the police need to go through the reliability of the evidence has come into question. Much of the evidence will have come from police who were on the scene, however given the situation the police will not have been able to make proper detailed notes of the incidents until much later. As has been seen in the past with the Ian Tomlinson case, this can lead to discrepancies in police accounts. With courts operating around the clock to process defendants and the pressure on the CPS to charge as quickly as possible, the ability of solicitors to properly advise defendants could be hampered. Due to the speed at which cases are being sent to court, evidential disclosure from the CPS prior to court appearance may not have been sufficient in some cases to allow defence solicitors to properly advise their clients.

The disregarding of sentencing guidelines by magistrates, as reported by The Guardian, raises concern that solicitors will bring cases to appeal, further prolonging these cases and potentially leading to cases being overturned or sentences reduced. This also raises questions of human rights. Courts are charged with delivering justice, proportionate sentences for crimes. If they are allowed to throw this out of the window based on public perception of a crime this is dangerously close to “mob justice”. That councils are evicting entire families because of the acts of a single member amounts to collective punishment, historically the preserve of an occupying army. During armed conflict, collective punishment is considered a war crime and is a direct breech of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the protection of civilians in times of war.

“No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

– Article 33, Fourth Geneva Convention.

Whilst we aren’t living in a military occupation in the UK one would hope that the same applies to citizens in times of peace. Precedent argues that it could also amount to a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

– Article 8, ECHR

I have never really bought the “we’re living in a police-state” line touted by many radical leftists but with international conventions and domestic law so readily thrown aside to placate Daily Mail readers and new and potentially more dangerous powers for police on the horizon, I find myself wondering what lies ahead for the UK.


Why Media Spin is So Dangerous for Society

The recent Camp for Climate Action at RBS’ Global HQ outside Edinburgh was typically reported with all the originality of Die Hard 4. The right-wing media rolled out the usual cliches; hippies, unwashed, posh, idiots, students etc. And the left-wing media was, mostly, supportive. Nothing new there. But then the media seemed to turn on Climate Camp. Articles on the, usually supportive, Guardian website were extremely critical accusing the camp of stifling free speech and reporting our lack of interest in Twitter as a failure of the camp as a whole.

There were also many newspaper reports that were simply not true. The Sun ran with the headline “RBS Rioters Battle Cops” illustrated with a photo of some protesters next to some police. Had The Sun used a wider crop of this image their readership would have realised the inaccuracy of the article. The protestors are not ‘battling’ the police (they all have their backs to the police) but are steadying a prop siege tower that was wheeled, painfully slowly, toward the police line. There was certainly no rioting, at all, anywhere on the site. It is a wonder that the Sun ignored the siege tower, for many of us on site we thought that it would be the image that dominated the media coverage.

There was a significant amount of coverage surrounding the phantom “oil slick” on the A8 outside RBS’ head office. This was alleged by the Lothian and Borders Police, though no evidence has turned up to suggest it actually happened. Regardless of the lack of evidence, media outlets jumped on the story and reported it without a moments thought for editorial integrity.

Again, as in years before, the police paraded a “cache of weapons” in front of the media, this year it was a hammer and a chisel, though it is still unclear where these came from – there is no press release from the Lothian and Borders police relating to the items. In the Sun article on the Climate Camp, with no regard to journalistic integrity or adherence to the truth, these were instantaneously pluralised, making the alleged crime appear greater.

Another disturbing example from The Sun comes slightly further down the page. Not only do they repeat the totally unfounded accusations that Climate Campers where responsible for the phantom oil-slick on the A8 but they, either deliberately or unknowingly, attribute more legitimacy to the story through their formatting of the quote from the Police.

The placement of these comments suggests that both the police spokesperson has made this entire comments and that someone from Climate Camp has taken responsibility for the phantom oil incident – for which, to say they have not is an understatement. In fact the two statement refer to two completely separate events that happened many miles apart from each other.

These are just a couple of examples from one article in the, famously right-wing and reactionary, Sun newspaper. Though suspiciously absent from it’s website this weekend is any reporting on the activities of the National Front with a PR strategy English Defence League in Bradford. Whilst this might be commendable (personally I think fascists should be kept as far from the media as possible) their history on reporting of the activities of the EDL suggest they might have other motives.

In July this year, they reported on the arrest of EDL member John Broomfield on charges of plotting to bomb a mosque. The circumstances of this incident are subject to question as there were no charges made, but the reporting of it seems to downright support the EDL, particularly when compared to the reporting of the Climate Camp.

The emphasis throughout the article is on the accused being innocent, whilst this may be the case, were the accused of Asian descent I can’t help but feel this might be slightly different. The image used to portray Broomfield shows him ‘defiant and patriotic’ in an England t-shirt. Look at any of the articles about Muslims accused of terrorism and they are all police mugshots.

“So what?” I hear you cry “a right-wing newspaper being right-wing, big whoop”. Thing is, though, the trend in all media is towards reporting assumptions, based on cliches and stereotypes, regardless of what actually happens. So what are peaceful protests become “riots” and “battles”, all Muslims become “terrorists” and racists are heralded as working class heroes. This sort of reporting is dangerous because it legitimises these stereotypes. It is naive and wrong to say that people don’t believe things just because they are in the media, people only believe things when they are in the media.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink he references a psychology test that demonstrates how the reinforcement of images in society really can shape how people see each other. People gave significantly more positive responses to word association tests regarding black people when they had spent 30 minutes before the test looking at pictures of people like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu or Martin Luther King.

What this shows is that the views of the EDL are based on media lies. Since the majory of UK media only, or biased to the extent that they might as well only, report negative stories about Muslims and immigrants we perceive them negatively. And so it is the same for protesters at Climate Camp, the reporting turns on them, so the people don’t support them and the association with climate change becomes negative.

If you listen to the media it seems we are almost on the verge of a race war, yet there is little (no) evidence to suggest this is actually the case. The vast majority of people get along fine and immigration is a huge benefit to the UK economy, not to mention to society.

This is why I am so angry with The Guardian for turning on the Camp. The Guardian, more than any other mainstream media outlet, has supported the Camp for Climate Action. But last week it chose to put out a series of very negative articles about Twitter “backfiring” on the Climate Camp and alleged attempts to stop freedom of speech, no doubt partly in retaliation for journalists being called “weak and cowardly” and “lazy” in a media guide, even though it was written by Guardian regular George Monbiot (does the failure to research that prove them lazy?). I don’t think the Guardian has a responsibility to always support the Camp, but they, like every other media outlet, has a responsibility to be apt and not misleading.

It seems so many of the ills of modern society can be traced back to mass representations; obsession with celebrity, fear of Islam (and the perception of any Muslim as a terrorist), mass consumption, political/environmental/sociological apathy. So this is my plea: please media, just FUCKING STOP IT! If we fill the media with positive images our wider perceptions will change and it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to do this.

Read the response from Climate Camp to the Guardian articles here, here and here.

“Football fans should be forced to pay policing bill” says Councillor

Councilor William W. McBraveheart today made a statement saying that football fans should be forced to pay an extra fee on top of their tickets to cover the cost of policing football matches in the future.
“Why should the innocent citizens of the area who have no interest in football have to foot the bill for entertaining a bunch of drunken hooligans”.

At recent games the policing costs of football matches have been known to cost more than a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money. Each game requires huge numbers of police on standby in case of violent clashes between the hooligans and police. There is also the cost of further policing into the evening after the matches and as the hordes of intoxicated yobs descend on city streets to wreak havoc – frequently causes fights and property damage.

Chief Constable B. Acon of the police force said “we have to deploy hundreds of police for each event and pay overtime, this means it can be extremely expensive to police football matches, often costing upwards of a trillion pounds.

“if we were to recover that cost from the boozed-up thugs themselves it would mean the taxpayer does not have to foot the bill” he added.

As football matches are a frequent occurrence the annual bill for policing of these events can run into the squillions of pounds. A spokesperson for the Football and Beer Alliance said “wehaaaayyy, yeah f**kin wicked mate, gonna smash the f**kin copper in the face”.

Councilor McBraveheart added “if we are able to make those responsible for crimes pay for the policing they are responsible for it takes the financial burden off the taxpayer and the accountability away from the police force, allowing them to be more effective at tackling crime and domestic extremism like the inebriated rapscallions responsible for football violence”.

Google Ditch China over Cyber Attacks

Google have announced that they may be closing their services in China following a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China”. They went on to say that the attacks, originating in China were directed at advocates of human rights in China.

Well the first thing to say is “About f**king time!”. As an activist in the Tibetan freedom movement I have received numerous attacks on my email account, as many as 10 in one day during the Olympics! Some of these are more sophisticated than others – the vast majority are VERY easy to spot as they use broken English and contain attachments from people I don’t know. Others are much more clever. One I received during the Olympics appeared to be from a colleague, they had cloned her email account and had written the email in fluent and clear English. It just so happened that I was sat in the office with that particular colleague at the time. In another instance I received an email appearing to be from a former colleague and friend who had recently left. The email address was right and the personal facts in the email – they knew where he worked and that he had recently left – were also right. They also knew our most basic security procedure – not opening attachments unless they were expected – and said in one email that they would send a document in the next. To be sure I rang the person the email was supposed to have come from and he had no knowledge of it at all. The attachments in both these cases were sent to an expert in computer viruses who did some analysis and found that the emails had some very sophisticated zero-day viruses and had originated in China. Though it cannot be definitively proven, it is widely believed that the attacks come from civilians in China who are recruited by the military specifically for this purpose, often from leading computer science universities.

It is telling that Google has gone public with this before talking to Chinese officials. This will have pissed the Chinese government off no end (always a good thing in my book), but also meant that unless there is a serious commitment to more openness from the Chinese government it makes it more likely that Google will leave.

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