Trial by jury: is the British presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” under threat?
I am terrified of the police. This is not because I have done anything wrong, but because they are frightening, and so is the modern British state. I never had this fear in the long-ago days when I brawled with the constabulary on anti-racist demonstrations and silly marches against the Vietnam war.
But I have it now in the era of the dawn arrest, and the increasing involvement of police officers in politics. I wonder more and more if I shall manage to die before I end up in jail for some yet-to-be-formulated offence against the thought and speech codes of modern England.
I don’t like the Sun newspaper and have felt coldly towards its staff since they became the slavish mouthpieces first of Blairism and then of the Cameron Tories. I don’t approve of phone-hacking, nor of police corruption. I don’t know or like Ruth Turner, the Blair adviser arrested at home in the early morning during the cash for peerages inquiry in 2007, and never charged. I don’t think much of Damian Green, the Conservative MP and now immigration minister who was arrested and held for nine hours in 2008 in an investigation over alleged leaks from the home office. His home and office was searched and he, too, was never charged.
But I shudder at the way the police and the prosecuting authorities have been behaving in recent years, heavy-handed, politically driven and, in my view, prejudicial. They have repeatedly acted as if the power to raid a home or arrest an individual is a weapon rather than a means to an end.
Back in the days when we all believed in repressive tolerance (it was in fact simple tolerance), our coppers were wonderful. They might have thumped you in an alleyway, but you would usually have deserved it.
Now they have turned into the engine of oppression that our early 19th-century parliament feared they would become.
This change took wing in the 1980s, paradoxically after various inquiries and commissions led by left-wingers who thought the force was getting too big for its helmet.
The police were no longer allowed to prosecute. But they were licensed to persecute. Arrests, which used to be made only in the expectation of a charge, quietly became a sort of public punishment, like the “perp-walk” pioneered by…