Sleeping Psyche…

7 06 2009

I have recently been pestered by a friend about keeping a constant stream of fresh posts going on this blog. In my defence, I have found myself a bit stretched for time, and, in all honesty, more than a little bored by the whole ‘corrupt politicians and broken democracy’ thing. Anyway, while searching for ideas for something to write about and thus appease my friend, I thought back to what I had seen and heard recently. My working hours mean that I now get to listen to Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show at lunchtimes, and this provides a certain level of intellectual stimulus.

Over the course of the last week there was a piece on this story. At the time I remember thinking that it was an interesting thing, with the potential to set a whole new legal precedent. Indeed, the commentator with whom Vine was talking admitted that the most savvy of defence lawyers would be able to use the implications of the ruling as a way of saving their clients.

For those of you too lazy to read the story, the basics are that a 33 year old woman was acquitted of attempted murder of her mother on the grounds that she was sleepwalking, and thus completely unconcious whilst she held the pillow over her screaming mother’s face.  It was only after her mother had freed herself from her daughter that the sleepwalker awoke, remembering nothing of the events that had just transpired.

As the discussion pressed on, there was the issue of psychology which was mentioned, but it was only in passing. This was, I thought, a more interesting element to the discussion. It was suggested that for the action to be undertaken in the first place, there must be some deep, dark element that had considered the action in the first place. Thus, if this is the case, surely there could be some charge relating to intent brought to bear against the woman?

I’m no psychologist, so I admit to knowing little about how the brain works during sleep, and the various triggers which impact upon sleepwalkers actions, but I do find it fascinating that there is the possibility that the actions of a sleepwalker are in some way representative of the innermost psyche of the person. The question is, would it be right to prosecute someone for thinking about something, even if they had no intention of carrying it out?

I’m suddenly concious that this is crossing into the realms of 1984 or Minority Report, but it is an interesting ponderable. If the actions of a sleepwalker reflect their own thoughts, concious or otherwise, would it be right to slap the cuffs on them and put them into jail? After all, they would have done something, in this case it was unconcious attempted murder. The thing that is missing is the intent, but if the point is maintained, the intent is there on some level. British law is regulated by the word ‘intent’, most prosecutors have to clearly show that there was a level of intent for the judge to agree. If intent is missing, the defendant would most likely be treated for mental problems, and housed securely in a home.

Personally though, I’m not convinced by this. I believe that in the case of the sleepwalking pillow smotherer, you cannot simply assume that intent would be present in some subconcious form and thus prosecute. There is one thing which is preventing such a thing happening, and this thing is medical knowledge. At present, we know very little about the complexities of the human brain. We know that no two people are ever the same, and that there is only a vague, broad set of generalisations that we can make about how the brain actually works. It is for precisely this reason that we cannot rationalise the actions of an unconcious sleepwalker, and therefore why we cannot convict someone for attempted murder with the absence of intent. If we could comprenhensively explain how the brain works, how various levels of thought work, how memory, or speech work, then perhaps it is more likely that we could begin to consider prosecution without intent. However, despite the advances that are being made, this is a very long way away. The judge got it right, and the case was thrown out. The implications of such a case in legal circles remains to be seen.

Public Privacy…

9 01 2009

So critics are attacking the new law which says all ISP’s are required to record all emails sent. This is all very well and good, but it won’t change anything, the law will still come in at the start of March, and all our private emails will be recorded, because, of course, we are all terrorists until proven otherwise. I find this grossly invasive, and it matters not a jot to me that the content of any emails are not stored, it is the principle.

And it is easy for the government to get away with. If they had come out and suggested recording our post, there would have been uproar from a number of parties, and a number of generations. As emails are based in the new generation of internet users, the government have almost automatically eliminated any outcry from older generations simply because they send far too few emails to be concerned with any censorship that may or may not occur.

For me however, email is an important tool of communication. That all my email correspondances would be recorded for a year is an utter invasion of privacy. It doesn’t matter if there is something to hide or not. It is known that any email correspondance with key words on already alerts authorities, but they want to take this further by monitoring who we send our emails to? The law seems confused too, what good is the information of who the email was between without the information of what the content was? Surely this opens up the possibilty of actually recording, and storing, all our emails, and being able to access any content that they so choose? This is so very invasive it’s stupid. It is akin to going through someone’s bin and finding confidential letters. Except that these letters haven’t been thrown away, all that has happened is that they have been sent, to only the intended recipient(s).  Surely if there is terrorist communications made by email, it is the job of the security services to find out, and take appropriate action? Reading between the lines then, is such a blanket step of recording all emails an admittance that the services are not up to the job?

Such a law is in line with the default governmental setting of presuming we are all guilty of something, until we can prove otherwise. The old adage of being “innocent until proven guilty” has swung so far the opposite way that we are now all terrorists in the governments eyes, unless we can prove we aren’t. I’m not a terrorist, and I very much dislike being treated as one by my own government. The world of suspicion in which we live has taken another step on the road to an Orwellian ending. This isn’t a good thing.

What Price a Broken Democracy?

10 12 2008

I am going to write about my experience yesterday, but due to various ongoing legal ramifications, it is better if I don’t mention names. For those who know me, I ask you not to mention any names either.

My parents are currently involved in an ongoing saga which is proving to be a real pain. Yesterday there was a meeting in which various councillors got together, plus representatives from the Rights of Way committee, to discuss our issue plus others. The process was as such: The chair ran through various bits of information left over from the last meeting, before inviting the RoW representative to talk, for as long as they like,  about the issue at hand. The discussion is then opened to the public gallery, and various people with different interests get to talk, for three minutes only,  about the issues. The discussion is then passed back to the councillors who get to discuss the matter for as long as they want, asking questions of the RoW people. The ‘public’ ie the people who have stood up to talk, do not get another say. When the issues have been understood the councillors vote to accept or reject the RoW’s proposals regarding any given case.

As I sat there, I found myself laughing at the complete nonsensical manner in which the meeting (which could be, and in our case is, costing a lot both in terms of lost working hours and legal costs) was run. As I see it there was so many things which were not democratic about this process:

1. Those whom the issue affects only get one opportunity to put forward their case, and this is in a tight time limit.

2. The RoW people get the opportunity to talk as much as they want (therefore pushing their case much more).

3. The public cannot respond to any debatable issues which the RoW people raise.

4. The councillors worked on the premise (false in this case) that the RoW people are the “experts” in the case.

These are just the issues in the running order, there are many more. The RoW is meant to be impartial, so in paperwork produced before the meeting, both sides of the case should be highlighted for the councillors benefit. This was not the case.

The councillors themselves should be impartial. Again this was not the case, with one obviously left-wing muppet passing some hugely irrelevant comment about the issue being indicative of the attitudes of the landed gentry.

The councillors should be consistant. One of the later cases was dismissed on grounds completely counter to what had been argued for our case. There was not a degree of consistancy.

The Chair should have a vague idea of what was happening. He didn’t. Time and time again he had to be corrected by various councillors and the clerk. If he cannot do his job properly, what chance is there for anyone else?

Frequently the RoW case reports were questioned by councillors as to their meaning, but no-one connected the repeated failings with incompetence. Instead the councillors remained adament that the RoW people were the best for the job.

There should be no conflicts of interest. The RoW person investigating our case was a member of the British Horse Society, who are arguing counter to us already. There will be much more about this soon I’m sure (I know other people in the process have wised up to this). Due to this conflict of interest, she did not present against us, but her supervisor did, who knew little of the case beyond the ‘facts’ in front of her.

The RoW people explained that in such cases only two types of evidence can be used, ‘historical’ and ‘user’. They cannot be used together. ‘User’ evidence is from people who have frequently used the path in question in the past 20 years. In our case there is none. Historical evidence is self explanatory, but in our case the evidence is debatable in interpretation. It is my feeling that the absence of one of these types of evidence should be a strong indication of the absence of the path, but due to the RoW’s self imposed regulations, this is not the case. If one is lacking, they explore the other type, building a case around poor evidence, but due to the problem highlighted earlier, they get the opportunity to plug this case as much as they want.

Despite these failings we won this round. Due to the constitution, the matter will now be brought back to the next meeting, and the RoW people get to present the same thing again. In effect they could keep coming back until they get a vote in their favour. I wrote down during the meeting the following phrase “A hugely frustrating display of incompetance and irrationality”. I feel this sums up the whole experience very well. To my mind the evidence is clear, the system is not just broken, it is completely destroyed. There needs to be a radical overhauling of such “democratic” processes as it is painfully apparent that the current ones are totally corrupt and useless. This won’t be the last you will hear on this issue, I assure you.

To the Letter…

30 05 2008, the only dictionary I currently have to hand provides me with the suitable starting point for this post. The site offers 27 different defintions for the word ‘law’. I will not elaborate any further on what these definitions are, feel free to look it up. The point that I am interested in is actually an amalgamation of the following two definitions:

“the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision”


“any rule or injunction that must be obeyed”

I thought this was reasonably clear. The law, as far as I’m concerned, is something that, if broken, should be punishable to some degree or other, whether it be a slap on the wrists, a fine, or a jail term. Except that it no longer is such a thing. There are though, it seems, in society various degrees of the law. Some adhere to the rebellious ‘laws are made to be broken’ phrase. Others, who consider themselves ‘law-abiding citizens’, endeavour to lead a legal life. Those of the first camp seem keen to convince those of the second camp that they are boring or uninspired. Then there are those who float between the two trawling out the phrase ‘the law’s an ass’ to justify breaking it.

My personal pet hate is cyclists on the pavement. Clearly, in the law, cyclists should not be on the pavement (and they should wear helmets, but that’s a different matter), yet they bomb down pavements with scant regard for those walking on them. Maybe this is just in Birmingham, I somehow doubt it, but maybe. However this is one of those laws that people either a) don’t know, or b) choose to ignore, after all, the law’s an ass, right? A little bit of innocent law-breaking is fine, as long as no-one gets hurt. Right?

I’m not convinced. I know that in many places the law is probably dated. I know in many places it can be a pain to stick to. Yet I return to the notion that it is there for a reason. Someone, somewhere, has decided that we need such a law to prevent something happening. If you break it there deserves to be consequences.

About a month ago, I got a letter telling me that I was being charged for jumping a red light. I do not really remember the incident, and was not aware, at the time, that I had done it. Apparently I had. What I do remember is that the road was deathly quiet on the day. There were no other cars nearby. There were no pedestrians or cyclists either. My action hadn’t affected anybody, it hadn’t had an affect on anything, other than getting me to my destination slightly quicker. Yet I was, correctly, charged £60 for breaking the law. I accepted this. I had broken the law, and deserved my punishment.

Yet it seems that people are happy to break the law if they know that they can get away with it. I know I’m being idealistic here, but I think this is the wrong attitude to start with. It’s easy, for example to break the law in relation to drinking underage (it was this post that made me consider this whole point), because, apparently, it isn’t hurting anyone apart from the people who break it. It is after all, something small, not worth worrying about in relation to bigger problems of society. And the police cannot monitor all underage drinking everywhere. Therefore it is fine to break the law.

Now I realise I am being too much of an idealist here, but I maintain that it is the wrong attitude to have, the law is there for a reason and as much as anyone disagrees with it, it must be adhered to if we are to help maintain a society which does not collapse on itself. Perhaps that is the problem at the moment, perhaps we are too willing to turn a blind eye to people breaking the law on a small scale, and can do little when this escalates? Perhaps. I don’t really know. I do know that laws prevent anarchy and rebellion, and go a long way to aiding our own democratic system. That is why I believe they should be taken seriously. Right the way through. It isn’t just the ‘bigger’ crimes which should be a concern, everything, ranging from not having a bus ticket, to buying alcohol underage, to stabbing someone, to burglary should be punishable. The more mundane crimes should still be punished. Even if it is just a slap on the wrist.

To the letter… of whiteness…

7 03 2008

There have been two pieces of news that have rung with me recently. I am more concerned about the second piece of information, but this first one still annoys me.

Pub landowner Tony Blows has been told to pay almost £12000 in fees and charges for flaunting the smoking ban rules. Tony, speaking on Midlands Today this lunchtime, vowed to fight the charges, and claimed that such an amount was indicative of ‘big bully’ type action from the government. Now I’m usually critical of the government, as and when they deserve it, but to me, Mr Blows hasn’t got a leg to stand on here. He got caught breaking the law. He must pay the price. To me, it is that simple. If you see someone littering in public, you expect them to have to pay the fine. If you get a parking ticket, you have to pay the fine. If you break the law, there should be consequences. And most importantly, there should be no exceptions.

Mr Blows now has been forced to sell his pub in Herefordshire to cover the fees, and has pledged to leave the country, but continue the fight. To me this is a case of ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. Tony will claim he has little choice but to leave because the government has come down on him like a ton of bricks for breaking the law. If he wants to leave, so be it.

Linking on from this in a roundabout sort of a way, last nights Newsnight programme was a really interesting one. To launch a series of programmes detailing white working class Britain, the programme had Culture Minister Margaret Hodge facing off against three outspoken men who felt that the government had let the working class down. I agree that the label ‘white’ working class is wrong, and that the problems go further than race or colour, but it is the one that the wise BBC decided to use. Nor did they define what the ‘working class’ actually was, a serious fault of the report I feel.

However, it showed many things, the results of which are here. The overall feeling of abandonment though shows something much more serious, and something I have already mentioned on this blog. Politicians are not doing enough to engage with the people. Especially the working class people. The Joe Normal Briton is not feeling satisifed with the current government. But that is only part of the tale. They aren’t satisfied with other options either, most agree that the Tories and the Lib Dems are equally bad. They also seem to think that the BNP is too extreme, and would not engage with the rubbish that Nick Griffin spouted on about in the programme last night (immigration of Pakistanis correlates to increased drug use? Are you actually kidding?). The overall feeling of frustration was the most telling point of the whole report, 58% felt under-represented. 88% felt they couldn’t talk about the subject for fear of being labelled a racist. The qualification “I’m not a racist but…” seems highly applicable here.

Now I am not part of the working classes. I would put myself in the upper-middle class bracket of society. But I too agree that there is something wrong with not being able to talk about immigration without being labelled a racist and having the slur hanging over me.

I also embrace multi-culturalism. I have no problem with people from various ethnicities in Britain, but I would like to see more of an effort made to embrace British culture. That does not mean go to the chippy every friday. It does mean do not hide behind religion or race. Do not use that as a reason you didn’t get a job for example. I feel if people come over here they must play by our rules. The trouble from my point of view is that the government are changing these rules to fit the people coming over. There is so much more I could say more about this subject, but for fear of boring you, I will refrain. All I would do is encourage you to watch the programme (it’s on the BBC’s IPlayer for the next week). And then read the website and the information. And then tell me that there is not something wrong.

The working classes are becoming more and more disenchanted with Britain, and are looking to jump ship. Just like Tony Blows.

Impossible Jobs…

12 02 2008

As far as impossible jobs go, the defence lawyers at the ‘fair trials’ for the six men accused of planning 9/11 must be pretty high up. To some extent here I agree with the human rights campaigners, how can these men who are accused of inflicting so much damage on one day, plus the subsequent wars, ever be expected to have a fair trial? The prejudice against them due to the allegations of the acts they may have done will surely hamper any trial conducted against them on American soil?

For me, the whole issue of torturing someone is a confusing middle ground. I can understand both sides of the coin, and could easily, if asked, argue the other ground. I am a critic of the American judicial system, especially local level stuff. Which is why I feel that if you are going to torture the information out of someone, you better be damned sure you are getting the truth.  A story made up simply to end the torture and appease the torturers is no good to anyone, least of all the defendant, for whom it may cost their life.

For me, the outcome of these trials is a foregone conclusion. These men will be convicted, the only issue is whether they will be given the death penalty, or simply jailed for life. Then again, I’ve been wrong before. Rewind a couple of years, and I confidently predicted that Saddam Hussein would not be killed, instead his trial would last a long time and nothing would get sorted. And we all know how that ended up don’t we? Either way, these six will not be walking free for a very long time, if ever again.