Saturday, January 13, 2007

"Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd ..."

posted by k

"Why have one-size-fits-all?" the government is fond of asking.

It's a sensible question when applied to education and healthcare, where plainly the needs of individuals are different. There's a case to be made for personalized education or healthcare, responding to the needs of the individual.

This government has introduced personalized law. Rather than one law which affects us all, there's a power to make personalized laws. There are actions which are criminal only when carried out by a named individual.

Sometimes there's a case for such personalized laws. A woman trying to free herself from an abusive partner, for instance, should be able to apply to a court to ban him from her house and workplace. She doesn't want to ban anyone else. The court rightly examines evidence and acts to protect an individual human being from danger.

Most laws are the same for all of us. No-one is allowed to kill, rape or steal. We are expected to dispose of rubbish properly and banned from hitting people.

ASBOs are different. ASBOs are laws framed for named individuals. They prevent individuals frm carrying out actions that are legal for everyone else: like feeding pigeons, washing cars and licking cameras, drinking in a pub, wearing a bikini in the garden and so on. Those given or threatened with ASBOs have included children with autism and Tourette's syndrome, would-be suicides, travellers, homeless people and protestors.

Some of those given ASBOs have never broken the law. Some are just the kind of awkward or different people that we used to accept in our communities. Other people may have broken
the law. The police prefer applying for ASBOs because the standard of proof is lower than in criminal cases. Hearsay evidence is allowed. Gossip and rumour are admissible in court. Breach of an ASBO carries a sentence of up to five years.

ASBOs were used as the model for laws against people accused (without trial) of terrorism
. The hearsay evidence admitted included evidence obtained by torture in other countries, until the Law Lords surprised the government by ruling against torture.

The government seems not to think it has gone far enough. According to today's Sunday Times, Mr Blair now wants to introduce super-ASBOs for violent offenders. This will be known as a VOO - a Violent Offender Order. But these aren't intended for people who have already comitted violent acts or threatened violence. These are for people who are judged likely to become violent in the future. People given super-ASBOs could be placed under curfew, forced to live in hostels, prevented from entering certain areas or from meeting certain people. They would be placed on the register of violent and sex offenders, even though they had never committed a crime.

The Home Office paper which sets this out, lists some of the factors that may lead to a super-ASBO:

The paper identifies a series of “risk factors” that could lead to a person being targeted for the new order. These include a person’s formative years and upbringing, “cognitive deficiencies”, “entrenched pro-criminal or antisocial attitudes,” “a history of substance abuse or mental health issues”.

Background, upbringing and "bad attitude" have been punished and criminalised by totalitarian and repressive regimes in the past. I could be called anti-social. I'm waiting for the knock at the door.


Blogger Episkopos Cain said...

Oh goody....just what we need, more laws with a subjective base. Words cannot express how utterly stupid this entire premise is.

Of course, this just makes people even more worried about countering authority, something I'm sure Blair, the man who once declared "these protests are a complete outrage" is happy with. The fear alone of a criminal record is enough to make some people reconsider civil disobedience and other peaceful measures opposed to the government of the day.

Gah, I remember when this country wasn't acting like a mini-Soviet Union.

10:24 am  

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