Thursday, June 15, 2006

"let's kill all the lawyers"

posted by k

The British government is trailing reforms to the criminal justice system. They've lined up the usual suspects: "out-of-touch judges" and "human rights defence lawyers". We're promised a force of "public protection advocates" to work in the police and courts to counter the threats from judges and lawyers.

I don't know how these "public protection advocates" will work. They sound like a cross between super-heroes and bureaucrats: Arnold Schwarzeneggger in a pinstripe suit. They're pitting the interests of the public against human rights.

We are all, individually, human. The public is always a group. It can be a community of shared interests (the Latin res publica which gives us the word "republic' has roughly the same sense as "commonwealth"). The public can also be a group of supporters or admirers. Stars can refer to "my public" and works of art go on public view.

I am often one of the public. I am always human.

Judges are an easy target. Their questions in court can sound foolish: "What is Linford Christie's lunchbox?" one asked, causing public hilarity. But courts can set precedents; fifty years on, lawyers may need that explanation.

Judges can be foolish. Sometimes they behave heroically. On occasions - in many parts of the world - judges have been killed for conducting fair trials.

The real target isn't human rights lawyers or judges. The target is the law.

Lawyers and judges follow laws that parliament can change. Governments make and amend laws. New laws may be read and debated before they are passed. Some members of parliament try to protect human beings as well as "the public". Debate can delay or halt new laws.

Will the next Criminal Justice Bill protect all of us, equally, as humans?

Whose rights - and whose powers - will Public Protection Advocates uphold?

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