Another page torn from the Magna Carta

Now Labour abolishes the right to a trial

Another page torn from the Magna Carta

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 15 February 1999

First there was the proposal to seize the assets of "unconvicted criminals" You may recall that under the quaint, and now discarded, principle known as the "presumption of innocence" the unconvicted were previously known as "not guilty".

There are only two things to be said in defence of this appalling initiative. It has been designed to target people who are suspected of genuine crimes. And the pretence of a trial is maintained - albeit a civil trial, where there is no need to show guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Now even these flimsy substitutes for the principles liberty are to be discarded. Not for everyone, you understand. Just for a small minority.

The mentally disturbed are to be sentenced to life imprisonment without a judge, or a jury, or even the pretence that any crime has been committed. Life imprisonment, on the say so of two doctors. It is for their own good, of course.

This goes much further than the oft-criticised policy of "sectioning" the mentally ill. At least there was previously lip service paid to the idea of treating people and not punishing them. Now it is life imprisonment for the crime of being ill. Or possibly ill. Ill in the opinion of two doctors.

Of course, it is almost certainly the case that mentally disturbed people are statistically more likely to commit violent crimes than other people. So are young men between 15 and 25. I am not sure which of these groups is, statistically, the more "dangerous". But if you refine the definitions - introducing postcodes, perhaps, employment status, or
ethnic groups - you can almost certainly find a sub-group as "dangerous" as the mentally disturbed.

So where next? Life imprisonment on the say so of two statisticians?

The mentally ill are not a popular cause. Nor are suspected gansgsters. Nor the convicted sex offenders who are to go on a permanent register and be exposed to a vigilante culture. There are not many votes to garnered in speaking for such people. The problem, and the glory, of human rights is that you do not have to be popular to
qualify. You just have to be human.

So many of the mentally disturbed cannot speak for themselves. They do not have the vote. And many of their relatives are ashamed to speak for them.

If we do not speak for them, who will speak for us when our liberties are taken?

Copyright Quentin Langley 15 February 1999

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