by Chauncey Tinker – 17 Apr 2019
Why should anyone respect the law when it is not enforced in an even-handed way? The UK’s justice system is being increasingly corrupted by the unequal application of the law. Many politicians who are currently calling for greater limitations on the freedom of speech and the right to protest peacefully seem to be oblivious of the importance of the principle of equality before the law. What’s more, in many cases we can sensibly suspect that there is a political motivation behind the unequal application of the law, meaning that political discrimination is taking place. This is a recipe for a breakdown in law and order, because ordinary people, perceiving the law as unjust, will be provoked into disobeying it.
In the United States a precedent was set by a case in 1886 relating to the equal application of the law. From Justia:
Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886)
The details of this particular case are not of interest to us here, I draw your attention only to the principle stated (highlighted in bold):
An administration of a municipal ordinance for the carrying on of a lawful business within the corporate limits violates the provisions of the Constitution of the United States if it makes arbitrary and unjust discriminations, founded on differences of race between persons otherwise in similar circumstances.
The guarantees of protection contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extend to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, without regard to differences of race, of color, or of nationality.
When laws are being selectively enforced I think it is always worth asking whether the law in question is even needed, or at the very least whether it needs to be refined so that there is an incentive for all cases to be pursued with equal vigour. To put it another way, if there are some violations of a law where the law does not even need to be enforced then we really should be asking whether what that law criminalizes even really matters enough to legislate against it.
A recent case in the UK concerned an admittedly despicable act involving the burning of an effigy that represented the Grenfell Tower block of flats. From the BBC:
Grenfell Tower bonfire: Man charged over effigy burning video
Many died in the horrific fire in June 2017. Despicable though the act of burning the effigy was though, we really must ask whether a prosecution served any useful purpose?
Bonfire night effigies often include political figures, as this article also from the BBC demonstrates:
Lewes bonfire night effigies include ‘ghost train’
In this event from the same day, November 5th 2018, there were effigies of many prominent political figures including Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and in a previous year Donald Trump went up in flames; there were no prosecutions.
The Grenfell Tower effigy incident is being prosecuted under the appalling Data Communications Act of 2003 (Tony Blair’s government was responsible for this dreadful piece of legislation). This act criminalizes any “grossly offensive” communications, an obviously entirely subjective standard which could never be expected to be applied consistently.
The BBC tries to explain when such a communication becomes a crime and when it does not:
Grenfell fire: When does causing offence become a crime?
… the key words in the offence are “with intent“.
… the critical question would be whether you told the offensive joke with the specific intent of causing anyone present harassment, alarm or distress – and that they did indeed suffer one of those things
Surely the whole point of burning the political effigies is also to cause alarm or even distress to the hated political figure in question, so the intent is clear enough? So why wasn’t the law also applied in the case of the political effigies as well then? Presumably the politicians in question did not complain, so that last condition was not supposedly met.
That brings us to a second case of selective enforcement, where James Goddard was arrested and subjected to draconian bail conditions for his part in a peaceful protest staged against Anne Soubry outside the Houses of Parliament. Her main complaint seems to have been that the protestors called her a “Nazi” and a “traitor”, words that she claimed alarmed and distressed her. Surely this was not nearly as threatening as setting fire to a person’s effigy on a bonfire though? I wrote about this incident at the time:
Public Order Act - Anna Soubry vs Yellow Vests
There has been abundant news coverage of this incident, but few have noticed the key point that I made in the above article, that in fact the protestors only started to call Ms Soubry a Nazi after she provoked them by claiming (without any justification) that they were members of the English Defence League (a group routinely vilified in the UK media/political bubble).
Now more recently the same word “Nazi” was used against a prominent Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg by one David Lammy, himself also a prominent politician (from the opposition Labour Party). Lammy’s justification for this slur appears to have come from nothing more than a rumour that prominent Conservative politicians in a group called the ERG sometimes refer to themselves as “Grand Wizards”. The rumour seems to have originated from an incident back in 2016, reported here by the far-left Independent website:
Michael Gove criticised for ‘comparing himself to KKK leader’
In the incident Michael Gove allegedly made an admittedly very ill-advised joke during a speech:
Mr Gove … is reported to have said: “I feel rather like the grand wizard of the KKK giving an address to the AGM of Black Lives Matter.”
Clearly Mr Gove was only making a joke and only comparing himself to the KKK Grand Wizards in the sense that he felt like a speaker addressing the wrong sort of crowd.
The story has resurfaced again in recent weeks with Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC allegedly claiming that:
people are calling them by a strange new moniker
“People”, what “people”?
Anyway I digress a little bit here, the key point is that a prominent politician (David Lammy) has called another prominent politician (Jacob Rees-Mogg) a Nazi. Why has David Lammy not been arrested yet then, as James Goddard was? Many ordinary citizens observing the proceedings are concluding that David Lammy has not been arrested because David Lammy is a politician, and that there is one law for politicians and another law for the rest of us. Worse still, some are even concluding that David Lammy has not been arrested because David Lammy is black (James Goddard is white). Thus the unequal application of the law in these incidents is not only damaging relations between our politicians and the general public, it is also damaging race relations as well. Let’s hope Mr. Rees-Mogg has the gumption to sue David Lammy for the slander at least, but perhaps he’s too afraid of being called other names as a result.
A genuine case of political intimidation occurred during the Lewisham East by-election where a sizeable crowd of very aggressive far-left activists behaved in a very threatening manner at the entrance to a hustings event; the police closed the meeting down claiming that there was a risk of serious disorder, yet there were subsequently no arrests! From altnewsmedia:
FAR LEFT “THUG” IS PROMINENT LABOUR PARTY MEMBER
Whatever you may think of James Goddard’s protest activities outside parliament, Anna Soubry was not prevented from entering the House of Commons on that day, whereas the Lewisham East hustings were shut down by the much more serious protests there, and a democratic debate was thus sabotaged.
In another more serious case, Tommy Robinson was convicted of mortgage fraud for merely lending his own brother some money to buy a house. Such transactions frequently occur within families in the UK and are never prosecuted. The only reason that Mr. Robinson was convicted of this offence was that the police were desperately trying to find something to charge him with in an attempt to suppress his anti-Islamic protest activities. As this article from the Gatestone Institute points out, it was a victimless crime; the only person who stood to lose from the loan was Mr. Robinson himself, and so it is really debatable if such transactions should really be illegal at all:
UK “Justice”: “Silencing the Silencing”
Worse still, the sentencing was very harsh in this case, 18 months in prison some of which was served in a violent offenders category prison where Mr. Robinson suffered a violent assault. This law, never mind such sentences, is only normally used in far more serious fraud cases such as this one (from the BBC):
Mortgage fraud in north Wales to see more prosecutions
more than 1,000 mortgages were allegedly used to dupe lenders in the run up to the 2008 property crash
Clearly this much more serious case was NOT a victimless crime! The 2008 property crash led to many people losing their homes, and a gigantic increase in the national debt!
Unsurprisingly, the unequal application of the law in this incident led many (including myself) to conclude that those critical of Islam were being unfairly treated by the UK legal system, discrimination which has undoubtedly substantially increased religious tensions in the United Kingdom.
Of course the above 3 examples are just a handful out of a great many that I could have chosen. Please feel free to add more examples in the comments section below.
The emphasis in the US Constitution is on protecting citizens from unjust and discriminatory laws, from laws that exist only to enable the authorities to commit discriminatory acts, and from laws that would excessively limit citizens’ freedoms. I think the need the same sort of protection for the UK is starkly illustrated by the examples I have given above. No words written on a piece of paper will ever be enough on their own however, we must continually participate by speaking out against injustices of all kinds whenever they occur.
The Principle of the Thing – Equality Before The Law
Incitement – A New Legal Framework
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.