Boris Johnson’s catch-22: ‘Get rid of the presumption of innocence’

Dangerously right-wing policies wrapped in a fuzzy exterior - but can Boris Johnson pull the wool over our eyes?

Dangerously right-wing policies wrapped in a fuzzy exterior – but can Boris Johnson pull the wool over our eyes?

A centuries-old pillar of British justice is too good for some UK citizens, according to that Great Briton Boris Johnson (who is descended from a Turk).

He wants Britain to abandon the core governing principle of its legal system – the presumption of innocence in UK law – so that people who travel to “war areas” such as Iraq and Syria may be presumed to be potential terrorists unless they can prove otherwise.

This means that people who go to war zones for humanitarian reasons would be labelled as terrorists, along with those who travel there to find lost relatives and bring them home, if they don’t notify the authorities first – and there are reasons why people might not want to do that.

It also means countries like Iran would have more advanced legal systems than the UK – Iran has the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven enshrined in its constitution.

Johnson reckons “the law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a ‘rebuttable presumption’ (which shifts the burden of proof on to the defendant) that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose”. Minor change?

Fortunately we do not need a change in the law to prove that this means Boris Johnson is an evil-minded arse.

Already fellow Tory and former attorney general, Dominic Grieve – who was allegedly ousted by David Cameron because he did not support Conservative-led changes to Legal Aid that would have made justice available only to the rich – has made it clear that Johnson’s idea would undermine British legal values.

How, exactly, is anyone supposed to prove that they did not cross borders to deliver supplies to terrorists or receive training in terror tactics?

James Ball, writing in The Guardian, states: “Recent history recounts in great and dismal detail the consequences of Johnson’s ‘simple and minor’ change: Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay.

“Camp staff were told in classified documents that ‘[t]ravel to Afghanistan for any reason after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 is likely a total fabrication with the true intentions being to support Osama bin Laden through direct hostilities against the US forces’. No matter if your detainee says they were visiting family, supporting NGOs, working with religious groups, or even – in some cases – supporting coalition forces, travel is deeply suspicious.

“’Travel to Afghanistan for charity reasons or to teach or study Islam,’ the document warned, ‘is a known al-Qaida/extremist cover story without credence.’

“Another sign someone is a terrorist, the US government said, was them telling you they were not. If the sleep-deprived inmates, who often had mental health issues, answered the questions slowly, this was also evidence they were a highly coached terror suspect. Even wearing a Casio watch – one of the world’s bestselling timepieces – was ‘the sign of al-Qaida’.”

It’s a Catch-22. According to this logic, anyone returning from a country where terrorists are active who claims they are not a terrorist must be – according to the authorities – a terrorist.

Wikipedia has it that “one connotation of the term is that the creators of the ‘catch-22’ have created arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power” and that “rules are inaccessible to and slanted against those lower in the hierarchy” (which is, of course, the intention behind Chris Grayling’s changes to Legal Aid).

So Boris Johnson wants to impose another abuse of power on those of us who cannot fight it.

That’s business as usual for a Tory.

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  1. Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Sonia Poulton, commenting on the same issue on Facebook, wrote the following extremely apt remark: “Morally-bankrupt Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants us to assume that people are guilty of terrorism without proof…what about those who are guilty of terrorism WITH proof? ‪‎Blair,‬ ‪‎Obama,‬ ‪#Bush,‬ ‪Cameron‬ – what should we do with them?”

  2. Mr.Angry August 26, 2014 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Descended from a “Turk” I think Mike you have left the “ey” off the end of that word. The man is a tory baffoon not fit to be even a mayor and he is yet to test his water canons!!!!!! moron.

    Will not waste any more words on waste of DNA.

  3. Bill Kruse August 26, 2014 at 11:16 am - Reply

    He’s not a Tory. He’s got nothing in common with your small shopkeeper the likes of whom will no doubt be as appalled by this as you are. He’s a fascist, pure and simple.

    • Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 11:33 am - Reply

      He’s more of a Tory than your small shopkeepers! Tories care about big money, not little guys who can be undercut in price wars.

  4. Nick August 26, 2014 at 11:21 am - Reply

    he’s your new prime minister mike sad but that’s the uk today all show on the right
    he is in reality like apple all crap but that’s the public’s choice and with regret that’s not for changing any time soon

    hopefully Scotland will vote for independence as to stay as they are many of there sick and disabled will face death of that I’m certain

    if they can vote for independence then that will signal that the Scottish aren’t daft which in turn will mean the uk public aren’t either but just like to play the part of being selfish daft

    • Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 11:37 am - Reply

      It’s true that the Tories can whip their supporters out to vote, while parties to the left have a harder time getting their voters out.
      Why is that, do you think?
      Are poor people in the UK psychologically pre-conditioned to support their own persecution?
      It can’t be too much work for the working-class to vote for their own emancipation, can it?
      Are there any non-voters out there who are willing to explain why they support – by not voting and allowing the repressive Tory anti-freedom brigade into office – political policies that force them to destitution?

      • John August 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm - Reply

        Professional politicians have created the conditions of voter apathy.
        Having stood successfully and unsuccessfully for elected office, I can vouch for the fact that most wouldbe- and non-voters consider all politicians to be the same. Just in it for themselves.
        MPs and peers expenses scandals and second-home expenses have conveyed an impression that most politicians are just greedy pigs who compete aggressively with one another for the swill in the trough.
        Why would anyone want to vote for them?
        This can also be understood as a deliberate attempt to get voters and potential voters demotivated to participate democratically in the governmental and decision-making processes in our country.
        It is clearly easier to manipulate and massage a smaller electorate.
        You can always rely upon the elderly and middle class voting if that is the demographic you aim your political policies at, after all.
        What I am saying is regrettable – but true.
        Politicians care only about target wards and constituencies, and the target voters within them – which usually excludes poorer voters.
        It is not that poor voters non-vote for destitution but that better organised and more articulate better-off people vote for policies and parties that will not make them materially destitute.
        I am sure you know all this already – do you not?

        • Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm - Reply

          You paint a depressing word picture.
          I was with you right up to your last few paragraphs. My problem with them is that you seem to be excusing the poor from voting whereas – it seems to me – the situation you describe should make them more motivated to vote, in the realisation that the system is geared to ensure that nobody else is going to help anybody but themselves.

          • John August 26, 2014 at 6:53 pm

            I am sorry if you find my analysis depressing but I believe that is how it is today.
            As someone with a long-term commitment to democratic socialism, I gives me no pleasure to have to relay these facts but – we have to face it – the legacy of Thatcherism is all around us. We are truly living in the era of Thatcher’s Children.
            Whereas the post World War Two generation embraced socialism and communalism, the efforts of Thatcher and others to destroy that communal identity resulted in the large destruction of traditional industries, such as iron and steel making, coal mining and heavy industry, with trades union membership plummeting since the 1980s.
            As I am sure you know, this also coincided with the era of Reganism in the US where their trades unions and their memberships were decimated too.
            Any rational analysis as to where we are has to start with an admission that the new ideology of Individualism is all around us, particularly among the young.
            It is not altogether bad as I saw on several pro-Gaza marches and rallies I attended.
            I saw substantial numbers of young people participating in the marches and rallies.
            Nevertheless, in a new era of smart-phones with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like, we have witnessed an increase in a level of individual self-centredness that older generations would have found unrecognisable.
            While there is a residual loyalty to institutions like the NHS and an antipathy towards the privatisation of public servies overall, we are seeing a general erosion of that sympathy for public services and the ethic of public service commitment.
            The period of Thatcherite and Reganite Individualism has been buttressed by support for increasing levels in inequality in our “anglo-saxon” societies here in the UK and US.
            What to do about it?
            The only hope is for a future UK government (Labour and/or Greens?) to reintroduce concepts of social justice and fairness that will end up attracting mass electoral support.
            Until then, I believe political and electoral participation will remain at their present abysmal level, until such time as people nationally begin to believe they have a real stake in the political process and that it is worth supporting individually and collectively.

  5. boromoor August 26, 2014 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Sorry, but the presumption of innocence hasn’t always been there for some of us. For years now, if illegal immigrants are found stowing away in the back of a HGV entering the UK, the driver is automatically assumed to be guilty of people smuggling and fined £4000:00 for each immigrant in his vehicle; to avoid this, he has to prove his innocence! Similarly, if a couple of kilos of drugs a hidden in the centre of one pallet on a 40 ton load of small parcels, the driver is arrested and then has to prove he is innocence of drug smuggling.
    Having come far too close to a £16,000 fine myself I’m probably less shocked by the ideas of Boris than most people

    • Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      Agreed, there have been changes made to the overall presumption of innocence in particular cases – and the rights and wrongs of them are arguable.
      What you’re not saying but should, though, is that you agree it is wrong and you would not want the presumption of innocence eroded away any further.

  6. John August 26, 2014 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Does Boris have the Mahal IDF Volunteer Program in mind. too?
    This is a global program which includes recruitment for the “Israel” Occupation Force, which occupies and militarily oppresses Palestinians in the “West Bank” and Gaza.
    As such, they will participate in the routine murder and ethnic cleansing of all of the Palestinians. Perhaps, in their case, a presumption of guilt would be no bad thing?
    Is that what Boris had in mind? That is, of course, assuming he has a mind to have!!

    • Mike Sivier August 26, 2014 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      I was in two minds about approving this one, because it makes certain claims without substantiating them – and I would still appreciate some supporting links, John!
      This does make a point about what the article is saying, though, and hopefully it might encourage some debate.

      • John August 26, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply

        Mike – and others – see for details of the Mahal IDF Volunteer Program.
        Volunteers from this country would be trained and deployed alongside called-up “Israel” soldiers, along with volunteers from other countries – predominantly the USA.
        Will those volunteering from this country be considered guilty by “Botcher” Boris?
        Someone mentioned that Boris’s ancestors are from Turkey.
        Which is the country most of the Islamist volunteers travel through to get to Syria?
        Turkey !!!!
        Perhaps some of Boris’s own relatives still there are involved in assisting them?
        Stranger things have been found to have happened in the past, have they not?

  7. phillevans August 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Anyone who fought in the International Brigades have any thoughts on this?

    • Thomas M August 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

      To be fair, the International Brigades who fought Franco and the terrorists of IS are not the same thing.

  8. Thomas M August 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    I don’t like IS, but all this law will do is catch innocent people.

  9. prayerwarriorpsychicnot August 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Standard political sleight of hand. Shout terrorism, then dismantle a fundamental safeguard and then everyone is affected . Anyone can be accused of anything at anytime. Don’t know anyone who has a cast-iron alibi 24/7 every week of the year. Do you.?

    • Mike Sivier August 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      My alibi is I was writing this blog.
      (I can never remember when I’m not writing it, so it goes as standard. Perhaps I’m not taking this seriously enough…)

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