Ross Clark Ross Clark

Guilty until proved innocent

Ross Clark shows that Tony Blair’s new theory of justice is both sinister and historically illiterate

Ross Clark shows that Tony Blair’s new theory of justice is both sinister and historically illiterate

I don’t know whether Maria Otone de Menezes, the mother of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot by police at Stockwell underground station on 22 July, has hired the services of a PR firm, but even Max Clifford could not have timed better her arrival in Britain. As Mrs Menezes and other members of her family surveyed the spot where her son was summarily executed on suspicion of being a terrorist, the Prime Minister was on a stage in Brighton saying this:

‘We are trying to fight 21st-century crime — antisocial behaviour, drug-dealing, binge-drinking, organised crime — with 19th-century methods, as if we still lived in the time of Dickens. The whole of our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don’t misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety.’

All law-abiding people, that is, except for the poor buggers who, like Mr Menezes, just happen to be on the receiving end of a bad call on the part of Mr Blair’s new, tougher 21st-century police force. And except for all the other innocent people who will be put behind bars because Tony Blair’s new, improved 21st-century criminal justice system can’t quite decide, on the balance of evidence, whether or not they committed their alleged crimes and opts, just to be on the safe side, to bang them up regardless. Never mind the ‘don’t misunderstand me’ bit; there was only one reasonable interpretation of the Prime Minister’s words: that the government intends to adjust the law so that from now on the criminal courts will be run on the utilitarian principle that the protection of the majority takes precedence over the liberty of the accused.

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