A letter a day to number 10. No 1,294
Wednesday 23 December 2015.
Dear Mr Cameron,
The presumption of innocence has been steadily eroded over many years. Whether I am correct in thinking that Margaret Thatcher was the author of its demise I’m not sure but she certainly and spectacularly showed her disdain for it as she sent out battalions of state Police mercenary troops to crush the miners who she described as ‘the enemy within’. The police were not used to maintain the peace, they were sent to brutally attack and crush the miners. Under Thatcher (1985) there was also the incredible violence of the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ in which 1,300 militarised police ambushed and brutally assaulted some 450 travellers who were making their way to the 12th annual free festival at Stonehenge.
In 1998 it was reported that spending on CCTV accounted for more than three-quarters of total crime prevention spending. The pernicious growth of CCTV has resulted in a steady erosion of the presumption of innocence, or the rise of what could be called the age of suspicion: the watchers watch and no one is innocent, everyone is fair game.
The ever increasing use of ‘on the spot fines’ has seen an even more disturbing issue: that a punishment can be imposed without due process in law. As Lord Neuberger, the President of the UK Supreme Court, put it, “the laws must satisfy certain requirements; they must enforce law and order in an effective way while ensuring due process, they must accord citizens their fundamental rights against the state, and they must regulate relationships between citizens in a just way.”
The disastrous consequences of the erosion of due process cannot be overstated, underpinning, as it does, the entire debacle we now know as Iain Duncan Smith’s authoritarian and brutal ‘sanctions regime’. Despite Smith’s continued false assertion that sanctions are ‘only ever imposed as a last resort if someone fails to demonstrate reasonable action to find work’, their very existence disposes of the presumption of innocence and due process, denying people their fundamental rights against the state and the regulation of relationships between citizens (Jobcentre staff and claimants) in a just way. When you said, ‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’, that was the expression of government by dictatorship already long in action.
Last December 38,232 people were sanctioned in the run up to Christmas and this year sanctions will affect 80,000 people. ‘The Public and Commercial Services Union said data provided by the Department for Work and Pensions showed 74,000 would lose more than £19million in Jobseeker’s Allowance. And £700,000 in employment and support allowances are being taken away from 6,800 disabled people.’ This is state brutality on an unprecedented scale and I can only wonder how many people, innocent of any crime, will not survive to see the new year.
It’s 30 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Trashed the Travellers’ Movement at the Battle of the Beanfield
Lord Neuberger on the rule of law and access to justice – choice excerpts
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