Big Society undermined by thick policemen and CPS prosecutors

August 7, 2010

The story of the Manchester policeman who ignored a gang of street vandals but arrested their victim raises all sorts of issues. Police who neglect their duty, and misuse arbitrary power are bad enough. What of the prosecutors, who hauled the victims through the courts whilst declining to prosecute the policeman who struck newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson? And what hope is there for David Cameron’s big society?

In most stories where a victim of crime takes on his or her tormentors, they have been driven to it because the police prefer to stay in their warm police stations ignoring calls for help. The Telegraph article Women arrested for swearing at yobs, tells of an occasion when PC Plank was actually present, and made an arrest.  You must have someone to drag off to the cells if you are going to get your bonus points, and the small female victim will do if you lack the guts to take on the perpetrators.

A brick was thrown through Miss Harrop’s window, and her boyfriend “left the house to confront six youths standing outside, but a patrolling police officer witnessed him being chased away by the group, who later returned to the street outside the property”. The policeman just “witnessed” this did he? Perhaps some Health & Safety regulation barred him from doing anything to help. Perhaps he was just too cowardly.

In the absence of any intervention by the police, Miss Harrop went out and gave her undoubtedly strong views using, so the charge sheet said, “abusive words within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.  I cannot quite picture the sort of yob who throws bricks through windows and chases people down the street but who is likely to be distressed by a small woman shouting at him. Thick policemen I can understand, but the charge-sheet was presumably drawn up by someone notionally possessed  of a brain. Read the rest of this entry »


Putting petty officials back in their box

July 31, 2010

A Bristol family’s picnic was ruined when over-zealous council officials (or “dim jobsworths” as they are known) made them take down their wind-break on Clifton Downs.  We have to turn this tide somehow and put petty officials back in the box from which New Labour released them.

Petty officialdom is nothing new, of course. Every culture has always had small-minded officials with powers disproportionate to their intelligence. It always used to be one of those things we mocked the French for – they guillotined their leaders in the cause of freedom and then voluntarily submitted to legions of bureaucrats and small men in uniform eager to tell them what not to do. The English have always mocked theirs – Hodges, the bossy blackout Warden in Dad’s Army, is a figure of fun who stands in for every killjoy whose job involves the enforcement of regulations; as a rough rule of thumb, the actual significance of such a person (and, one suspects, the size of his penis) is inversely proportionate to his self-importance.

The missing component, of course, is discretion, that is, the application of intelligence to any situation in order to decide what is right. You cannot expect discretion from stupid people, which is why traffic wardens, town planning officers and the like are simply given rules to apply or enforce. The word “jobsworth” derives from the curious expression “it’s more than my job’s worth”, with the implicit admission that the job is not worth very much to anybody apart from its holder.

Such people thrived under New Labour, for whom no activity was too minor to be regulated. Figures obtained by Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne before the election showed that 4,289 new criminal offences were  created between 1997 and 2009, roughly one for each day in office.  More and more officials were employed to enforce them and given ever greater powers, including the power to levy on-the-spot fines. Labour may not have executed the hereditary aristocracy, but it took away its powers, such as they had, and, in a curious parallel with the French Revolution, simultaneously empowered the little people with more authority than peers had had for generations. Read the rest of this entry »


Amputee soldier can walk 400 metres so DWP cuts his benefits

July 28, 2010

A civil servant has decided that private Aron Shelton, who lost one leg in Afghanistan and may yet lose the other, should have his disability living allowance taken away after he struggled to walk 400 metres. You can read an article about it here and you may then like to focus on the quotation from the civil servant which appears at the end. It reads:

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: ‘Aron Shelton’s case is under review and we recognise his brave service to his country.

‘This case is a stark reminder why we need a new assessment to decide if someone is eligible for DLA.

‘Under the current system we ask customers to supply us with the relevant information and, unless further information is requested, our staff will make a decision based on this. Eligibility to DLA, like all benefits, is set out in legislation and is not discretionary.

I wonder what degree of urgency is being given to this review and how long it takes to decide that the decision is wrong. How many civil servants have to read the file? How many tiers of management must it go through, do you think, before it reaches somebody is sufficiently senior to decide that a brave man who gave his leg for his country should have a car to get about in? And in what sense is the soldier a “customer”? Read the rest of this entry »


Revival of Oxford Agenda and Oxford Inciter Blogs

June 25, 2010

I am thinking of reviving my Oxford Inciter and Oxford Agenda blogs. This post appears on both of them. Both ran for several months until a couple of years ago when my day job became all-consuming.

The day job involves electronic disclosure or e-Disclosure of documents (electronic discovery, or e-discovery in every common law jurisdiction save England & Wales). My role is to educate and inform judges, lawyers, clients and suppliers about the law, the practice and the technology involved in e-discovery, and in marketing the ideas and services to others. The primary medium for this is a blog for the e-Disclosure Information Project, whose 250 or so posts in 2009 sometimes generated several thousand words per week. There is more than enough to write about on that subject, and optional things fell by the wayside. In addition to work in the UK, I spend about a month each year at conferences abroad. These trips simultaneously gave me a wider range of subjects to write about and less time to do so. It seems worth having a go at reviving the non-work blogs.

The subjects which I used to air in them – dishonest politicians, the creeping power of civil servants, the expensive stupidity of local government officers and the incompetence of railway companies – have worked their way into my e-Disclosure writing. This is not a drawback – I like comparisons and parallels, and my readers seem to appreciate the leavening of the rather dry legal and technical subject-matter with examples pulled from other areas of everyday life. There is, nevertheless, plenty to write about which cannot be turned to didactic purposes in my work blog and, besides, it is refreshing for the brain to cover other things from time to time. Read the rest of this entry »


Four stories in one day to remind us why we need judges

January 17, 2009

We are going to need a strong judiciary in these dying years of New Labour. Four events reported today remind us how contemptuous Government has become of those who elect it.

The Government announced plans to exempt MPs from a requirement to detail their expenses. The Treasury announced that it would not be hurrying to compensate those who lost their pensions in Equitable Life. The Government said that Heathrow Airport is to be extended without Parliamentary debate. And John Mortimer, fierce fighter for individual liberty, died. I do not suppose there was in fact a connection between this last event and the other three, but it is easy to see one. Read the rest of this entry »


Speed cameras and statistical ignorance

September 15, 2008

A new study shows that government claims about lives saved by speed cameras are overstated. This is ammunition against the free-spending little people who run our local authority highways departments. As recession closes in, councillors and others who have been rubber-stamping big budgets are going to have to start questioning what the money is for and why it is necessary to spend it.

Researchers at Liverpool University have knocked Government claims that 100 lives a year are saved by speed cameras. Whilst speed cameras do reduce accidents, the numbers are exaggerated. The research shows a fall in accidents of 19% compared with the claimed 50%.

Does this matter very much, you might ask. After all, this Government belches out false statistics daily and has, indeed, devoted more energy to rigging the apparent outcomes of initiatives than it has on the initiatives themselves. It does matter, and for reasons which go beyond the actual facts behind this research and beyond motoring. Money is wasted in vast quantities on things which make little difference; things which really do matter are neglected in favour of those which yield apparently good outcomes; the police, who need all the friends they can get at the moment, are tarred with the fall-out of policies to which they do not necessarily subscribe; and any little surviving regard for government (as opposed merely to this Government) takes another pasting. Read the rest of this entry »


Lifeboats, lost cats and Wellington boots

September 13, 2008

The tail end of Summer has seen a spate of stories about minor officials with an acute grasp of the regulations and no brain. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency would rather see a girl drown in compliance with the rules than save her by breaching them. Chichester Council declined to pick up rubbish in a four inch deep stream because they had no-one qualified to wear Wellington boots. And a Canterbury council official threatened a 13 year old boy with an ASBO and an £80 fine for putting up notices about his lost cat.

When Gordon Brown looks back over New Labour’s failures he will find that much of the hatred which he and Labour have inspired will derive from the uncontrolled zeal of stupid officials like this. Labour has created the context – an avalanche of petty regulation and armies of petty pen-pushers to enforce them. There is an economic cost to add to all the other economic costs – compliance amounts to an additional tax and all these dim little people have to be paid for – but the cost in popular support is greater. Read the rest of this entry »