19 June 2008

David Davis: Theory vs Reality

I have spent the last few weeks trying to work out what I think about the 42 day debate and now about the position taken by David Davis in his by election stunt. Here's where I am:

42 Days: I do not believe it is right that the police can hold someone without charge for more than about 48 hours but I do accept that there can be circumstances when this might be necessary and that if the judicial oversight is adequate it can be justified. The craziness of this law is that it is all highly controversial, whereas it is not at all controversial that suspects can be held post-charge, pending trial, for months, if not years. However, the rules as to how suspects are treated before rather than after charge mean that the police would prefer that they remain uncharged for as long as possible. The Americans have a more sly approach to this: they have created a bunch of offences which can be used as a basis of a holding charge (we have many of those as well) and then, with the suspect in custody, continue to investigate the "major" offence.

We might be much happier that a suspect is held in custody because he has been charged with an offence (such as refusing to hand over decryption keys for his computer equipment) as at least there would be the chance for an innocent person unwittingly caught up in an investigation to get out of custody quicker through co-operation with an investigation.

What I find extraordinary is that someone who is identified as a dangerous terrorist, such as Abu Qatada is released from custody because a deportation is screwed up and no one has thought to charge him with anything in the UK.

Put it this way, there seem to be better, less controversial, ways of protecting the public from terrorists than the current proposals emanating from the Labour government.

CCTV etc: Unlike David Davis, I do not feel my freedoms are being invaded by CCTV, ID cards or a DNA register. My freedom is invaded by the bastard who keyed my car on not one but on two occasions (on each side), the sods who have used my doorstep as a urinal (particularly the one who used the letterbox) and the twats who burgled my wife's offices twice in a week.

For many of us living in London - including the nice parts - crime is not theoretical or the subject of over-active paranoia, but a daily concern and an all too frequent reality. Add having young children into the mix and your concerns increase exponentially.

(Of course I hate speed cameras that catch you doing 35 mph in the countryside at 8am on a Sunday morning, but it is the heavy handedness of the speed control freaks I object to, not their efficiency in enforcing those rules.)

I want the state to do its job and protect me, my family and my property from the yobs, the spivs and the criminals. I want to it to enact sensible, relevant laws which give the police and the courts the powers they need and for them to enforce those powers diligently and proportionately. If that means the state utilises the technology available to do that job more effectively, then all for the good.

I am not so naive as to believe in the endless bounty and goodness of the state or, for that matter, its consistent competence. However, neither do I believe that the state, in the UK at least, is a malevolent force or that by giving it the tools it needs, that these tools will be abused by a future government.

Ultimately, this debate is not black and white, as it is presented by David Davis, but there are shades of grey. The job of government is to navigate those tricky questions and strike the right balance and the present government is clearly failing at that task. David Davis, by his gross over-simplification of the issues, has shown that he is equally not up to the job, so perhaps we have been spared a Home Secretary who cares more about the theory than the reality of government.

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