Those of us who believe that central government has increasingly encroached upon our civil liberties over the last few years should be very worried by the events of the last week. Because, by interfering with the independence of the judiciary and insisting on harsh sentences for those involved in crimes related to the recent riots, Cameron has driven a coach and horses through the UK constitution and demolished one of the principal pillars on which it is supported.
The Rule of Law is the critical last line of defence for civil liberties, ensuring each of us an entitlement to a free and fair trial. It is our guarantee of independently administered justice, free from political influence.
Yesterday it was reported in the Evening Standard that, in a case in Camberwell Green
“the chairwoman of the bench told lawyers she had received instructions to jail all rioters….The court clerk, Claire Luxford later said magistrates had been emailed by a manager within the HM Courts and Tribunals Service telling them to ignore normal guidelines.”
The Telegraph also reported that
“The guidance for tougher penalties was issued amid growing concerns that courts were being soft on offenders. Looters and rioters walked free last week in a series of cases, including David Atoh, 18, who admitted stealing two designer T-shirts in Hackney, east London.
A magistrate told him the two days he spent in a cell awaiting his hearing was adequate punishment and freed him. Despite Mr Cameron’s pledge that young offenders would face punishment, a string of juvenile criminals were allowed to return home to their parents."
But following the Ministry of Justice directive, referred to above, almost everyone coming before the courts for riot related offences was getting significant jail sentences, even for crimes like stealing water or receiving a stolen pair of shorts. Undoubtedly, this tougher sentencing will have been popular with the public, and the cynical might suspect that is why Cameron has made sure it happened, but an important principle has been broken here.
Because it is now clear that, in the UK, the judiciary is NOT, after all, independent of the executive arm of government. The sentencing guidelines in these cases have been overturned by central government edict meaning that our system of independent justice itself has, itself, been subverted and that our citizens can no longer be guaranteed a fair trial. That is pretty serious for us all, and by subverting the Rule of Law in this way I believe the government has acted quite unconstitutionally.
Incidentally, had the CPS seen fit to charge offenders with the crime of riot, and they had, subsequently, been fairly convicted in court, and the judge had handed down a maximum 10 year sentence, I would have had no objection whatever.
Bur clearly it was simpler to ignore the constitutional rights of our citizens and lock them up on David Cameron’s whim…………..