I make this somewhat odd-sounding statement in light of the political row which arose a few weeks ago regarding the Supreme Court ruling on the sex offenders register. The rules required that any sex offender sentenced to prison for 15 years or more was to stay “registered” for life, with no prospect of appeal. The Supreme Court ruled that this had to change.
The media and the Conservative front bench then decided that this decision would signal the end of days. Because of the evil unelected judges, paedophiles will roam the street, armed with shotguns. And bears. Lock up your children! Evil judges are currently rampaging round central London, burning elected MPs after beating them with their little court maces. The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Philips, is carving a giant phallic symbol on the doors of the House of Commons. His deputy is currently urinating all over the Queen. All the while their malevolent judicial masterminds in Europe are chuckling away to themselves while sipping children’s blood from diamond goblets, smoking joints rolled in the remains of the Magna Carta.
Mr Cameron’s comments on the whole matter are hilarious and shocking in equal measure. He told Parliament (whose job, remember, is to hold Government to account), that the Government would do “the minimum necessary" to comply with the law.
Let’s just think about that. The leader of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has just announced, in a Parliament charged with holding him to account, that he is going to do as little as possible to comply with the law. What Mr Cameron appears to forget here is that the law is what governs this country. This county is not subject to the rule of men. He is not in charge. His Government is not in charge. The Queen is not in charge. The law is in charge. Now Parliament (not Government) can, of course, can change that law. But ultimately, the Law is what governs us. That is the principle of the Rule of Law.
What we see Mr Cameron doing here is announcing that he will ignore the law as far as possible. What would we say if a criminal announced that he was going to do “as little as possible” to comply with his sentence? Or if a company director announced he was going to do “as little as possible” to comply with the law in the conduct of his business? And yet here we have the Prime Minister announce that the Government is going to do as little as possible to comply with the law. That is deeply concerning. I am quite sure that he would be concerned if I did “the minimum necessary” to comply with the law in only “mildly” assaulting him, for example.
The law, of course, is not always clear. And it is not always enforced and protected. The law needs a voice in our state machinery to speak on its behalf. That is where the courts come in. The role of the Judiciary is to act as the voice and the enforcers of the Law. Judges do not make “decisions” in the same way as politicians. They must make “judgements” in accordance with the law. They must apply the law, and swear an oath to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will." When a judge hands down his or her judgement, it is not the judge speaking, but the law itself.
It is for these reasons that we do not have “elected” judges, or judges chosen by politicians as in the US (the US Supreme Court is essentially a not-very-funny big joke). Our judges must be capable of setting aside emotion, politics, public opinion and personal opinion. When sitting in judgement, a judge must adopt another persona. This is symbolically represented in the judicial robes and wigs they wear, the bench they sit on, and the new names that many adopt on ascension to the bench. It is out of respect to this position that they are address as “Lord”. They must be hugely intelligent, and must have great experience in the law. They must be possessed of great foresight in order to anticipate all the possible consequences of their decisions. Elected officials are hugely unlikely to be capable of this job, as they must take populist decisions to secure re-election. This “unelected judges” tirade from the media is nonsense. Judges are unelected because they do not represent the people. They represent the law.
(Despite all this solemnity, the justices of the Supreme Court actually seem a fairly nice bunch of down to earth people. I encourage anyone reading to watch either the BBC or Channel 4 documentaries on the Court.)
I light of all this, we come to our next idiot in this affair; our illustrious Home Secretary:
"It is time to assert that parliament makes our laws, not the courts, that the rights of the public come before the rights of criminals and, above all, that we have a legal framework that brings sanity to cases such as these,"
First of all, she is right to say that Parliament makes the law. However, the courts must apply the law. Which the Supreme Court did. It applied the Human Rights Act 1998, a law passed by Parliament, which incorporated into the UK the European Convention on Human Rights. This was a European initiative which was championed by Churchill following WWII. Ironically, it is a triumph of the Conservative Party. It is admired throughout the world. (It also has absolutely nothing to do with the EU incidentally, it is older and much more important, but that is a rant for another time.)
In this case, the Supreme Court applied the Human Rights Act 1998, under which it was decided that it was disproportionate to have a person put on the register for life with no prospect of appeal. The Court did not say that we must immediately equip all convicted sex offenders the address books of all primary schools, a pair of binoculars, a Polaroid camera and a box of S&M toys. The Court simply said that offenders should, after a certain period of time, be allowed to argue they had changed. They would not be taken off the register until approved by the appropriate law enforcement and psychiatric officials. Is that so problematic?
Turning to the Home Secretary’s second point, she says that the rights of public come before those of criminals. She kind of misses the point here. Human Rights belong to anyone who is a human. You cannot pick and choose. Human Rights cannot be handed out and taken away by the state. They are fundamental to what it means to be human. Human Rights protection is often seen in the UK as a “Criminal’s Charter”, which is unfortunate. But the reality is, when the state begins to decide who deserves Human Rights and who does not, you set off down a slippery path indeed. It falls to the courts to stop this happening. Try telling the average Libyan at the moment that the state should be allowed to choose who is entitled to Human Rights and who is not. I believe a German chap once did a similar thing with the Jews…
Leaves the judges to do their job, Dave. And you get on with yours. Don't you have an NHS to demolish and an economy to ruin?