Congratulations are due to Green MP Caroline Lucas, who walked free from court today after criminal charges against her were overturned.
She had been charged with obstructing a public highway and a public order offence, during high-profile anti-fracking protests last summer. Neither offence carries a prison sentence – the maximum penalty for either charge would have been a fine of up to £1,000.
District judge Tim Pattinson said the prosecution had failed to satisfy him that Lucas had “the requisite knowledge” about the Section 14 order being in place.
On the obstruction charge, he said he did not hear any evidence that any actual obstruction of a vehicle or person was caused by the protest.
It is good for British justice that Ms Lucas was acquitted – but bad for British justice that she was taken to court in the first place, most particularly because the case contrasts so strongly with that of disgraced former cabinet minister Maria Miller.
Miller claimed tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money under false pretences. You can call that fraud, if you like (maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment).
Did she go to court? No.
Because she is a member of Parliament, the financial irregularity was investigated by a Parliamentary body, the Commons Committee on Standards. Rather than take the advice of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who recommended that Miller pay back the full amount, the committee ruled that she should return just £5,800 and apologise to Parliament for obstructive behaviour during the investigation.
Surely everybody can see the double-standard here?
The least we can learn from these two stories is that the law absolutely does not treat everybody equally.
Ms Lucas was arrested, detained at Her Majesty’s convenience and now she has faced trial for the offences alleged against her. This MP, who opposes the government in Parliament, was then acquitted after a fair trial and has the support of the general public in this matter.
Miller was accused of a far more serious crime than Ms Lucas but has not been arrested, has not been detained, and has not been tried for the offences alleged against her. The then-government minister was whitewashed by her colleagues and only resigned because of a public outcry against the decision.
What conclusion can the public draw, other than that government MPs are effectively above the law?
David Cameron’s government can only redeem itself with two actions: It must remove Parliament’s right to investigate claims of financial irregularity by MPs and placing this duty firmly where it belongs – with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The other action?
Maria Miller must face a criminal trial, charged with fraud.
Speaking before the event, Mr McGowan said a few words that were particularly illuminating. “Without a mandate, having concealed their health policy, this government is giving away NHS contracts to the highest bidder,” he said.
“Under the cloak of austerity, the primary purpose of this government is to move public money into private pockets, as fast as humanly possible. They are like pigs at the trough of public money.
“These people in government are liars, criminals and thieves and should be arrested for embezzlement of public funds. A staggering 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections; amazingly all of them were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care Act.
“This is not a democracy.”
You’d have expected this expression of free speech to have received a huge amount of coverage in the free press, wouldn’t you? Well, think again because I just checked: An article in the Metro and a video on something called London24. That’s all.
Ah, but there’s always Facebook, where bloggers such as myself can freely direct readers such as yourselves to our work and highlight the subjects not covered in the so-called popular press, isn’t there?
Well, this was a story that Facebook was doing its damnedest to make sure didn’t get out.
Facebook then seemed to get a taste for censorship: The Pride’s Purge blog by Tom Pride received similar treatment after it posted links to an openly-satirical article (It was plainly marked ‘Satire’) about the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Tom claimed in a later post that a JobCentre Plus worker “openly bragged” to him that JCP had complained to Facebook about him, and this had led to the censorship of his work.
Even this blog, which only posted links to other articles about these issues, was targeted for attack. As readers who link here from Facebook will know – you alerted me to it – we had a couple of days when visits here were accompanied by this stern warning: “Facebook thinks this site may be unsafe. If you’re not familiar with it, please provide feedback by marking it as spam (you’ll be brought back to Facebook).” As site statistics show, this was enough to put many readers off.
I wasn’t having it. I have written to Facebook, pointing out that the unfounded allegation is defamatory and demanding that reparations must be made – to charity, and to the Labour Party (of which I am a member), since this site is not for profit and the attacks seemed to be centred on left-leaning bloggers. They’ve got three weeks to respond, then I start adding noughts to the amount that I suggested.
Facebook has said the mass censorship was a mistake made by its automated systems – but you’d have to be gullible in the extreme to believe that.
So much for freedom of speech; so much for freedom of the press; so much for freedom on the Internet.
Yesterday it emerged that a man had been held in prison for two weeks after claims were made that he made a “threat to kill” during an Atos work capability assessment.
Steve Topley, a 49-year-old Hucknall father with multiple health conditions including Reynard’s syndrome, who has a heart replacement valve and lost one of his kidneys to cancer, and is on a strict medication regime including treatment to stabilise his blood levels and maintain safe blood pressure, was whisked away after he made comments about a person who was not present at the assessment.
He was arrested, subjected to a mental health assessment which offered no reason to detain him, so was re-arrested and taken to Nottingham police station where he was charged and kept in custody. He was refused bail twice in closed courts which, his family said, they were refused permission to attend.
Today (Friday) he was taken to another secret court, where he was charged, admitted the crime, and bailed – with the likelihood of a community sentence waiting for him at his next appearance.
Johnny Void, writing about this in his blog, made some particularly apposite comments on the subject, as follows: “This incident happened in the middle of an Atos assessment which are notoriously stressful and frightening for claimants. If he hadn’t been put through that, it is unlikely he would have said whatever he said, which it seems was not a very credible threat, at least as far as the Judge was concerned.
“It can make people react irrationally or angrily and they end up doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The context these events take place in is often ignored by ‘professionals’, because to them it is all just a job and they can’t understand why people are not being reasonable. The stark terror felt by some people facing courts, benefit assessments, arrests, bailiffs, prisons or even more seemingly benign institutions such as social services, Jobcentres and community mental health teams can often cause people to destroy themselves. This can happen even if ‘professionals’ concerned do their jobs properly within the constrain of the system and no-one is really personally culpable.”
So much for personal freedom – but wait. The situation here is actually worse than even this story makes out. I am indebted to Vox Political commenter vince032013, who tells us the following, about so-called ‘reforms’ to Legal Aid (italics mine):
“Things might be about to get a lot worse. The government are now planning on reforming the criminal justice system. Highlights are 1. Suspects in the police station will not be able to choose a solicitor. They will be appointed one. 2. The number of solicitors’ firms is to be reduced by 75 per cent (that’s not a typo – 75 per cent). 3. The reduction in the number of solicitors is to be achieved by putting criminal work out to tender. 4. The bidders are not allowed to bid at over 82.5 per cent of the current cost of running a criminal case. 5. The consultation which has introduced this idea states in terms that it does not want solicitors to offer any more than an “acceptable” level of service to suspects. 6. Once charged, defendants may be represented in court by someone with no Crown Court trial experience (and will not be able to exercise a choice to change that representative). If you’re interested read the consultation here
In other words, this Conservative/Liberal Democrat government is determined to rig the justice system against anybody who becomes caught up in it. The conditions described by the commenter are utterly corrupt and offer nobody in this country any chance at justice – unless they can afford it. So the really serious criminals and gangsters have nothing at all to fear.
Today we also discovered that the so-called “big four” accountancy firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – who were brought into the Treasury to help the government draw up tax laws, have been using the ‘insider’ knowledge they have gained to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes. They have been telling multinational corporations and wealthy individuals how to exploit loopholes in the legislation they have helped to write – according to the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.
This represents a staggering betrayal of the working- and middle-class citizens of this country, who have no choice but to pay all the tax that the government demands from them or face imprisonment – and an appalling display of hypocrisy on the part of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who, only yesterday, said he planned to use the UK’s chairmanship of the G8 nations to tackle what he himself described as “staggering” worldwide levels of tax evasion and avoidance – levels that he, himself, is helping to boost.
Now, I’m not voting in the elections next week. There isn’t a poll in my part of the country. But if you are planning to vote…
Considering the way the government has pushed through its plans to sell the NHS to the highest bidders (without a mandate, having concealed its health policy); considering the way it has been implicated in attempts to stop the public from finding out about the plans and what they mean (in conjunction with Facebook); considering how its servants take it upon themselves to subject very-ill individuals to extreme pressure and then imprison them on the basis of what they say in those circumstances; considering the plan to deny justice to the poor and make high-quality legal advice available only to the extremely rich people, including rich criminals, who can afford it; and considering the fact that it has opened the door for those who should be paying the most tax in this country to avoid doing so altogether – while claiming it is doing the exact opposite…
Taking all those issues into consideration, if you are a working-class or middle-class person planning to vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat next Thursday, then for your own safety, submit yourself for medical assessment because you must be barking mad.
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