The media, Parliament, the police and the Judiciary are separate powers. If Hackgate teaches us anything, it is that they must be more so.
In case you were blinking or have perhaps been to the lavatory in the last two hours, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned this evening.
One shouldn’t worry about missing the odd Newscorp-related arrest, as there’ll be another one along in a minute. Rebekah’s collar having been felt at lunchtime, all sorts of speculation along the lines of ‘Why now?’ has been around: but for what it’s worth, my legal Beagle’s opinion is that this means she won’t be able to make her guest appearance on the Muppet Show next Tuesday, much as I’m sure she’d like to. I have it on reasonable authority that Weeting et al decided to arrest the flame-haired airhead once it became clear she’d probably turn up to the
Goalhangers Show-trial Commons Committee.
Effectively, there’s a turf war going on here – and for once, it’s entirely justified. For Consitutional anoraks like me, there is a very clear difference between the job of the police on the one hand, the role of the Judiciary on another, and the role of the political class in general (and the Government in particular) on the third hand, should you be lucky enough to have one. David Cameron struggles to grasp it, but then life has been a continuous struggle for the Prime Minister, so this is nothing new. Recently, the PM made a hopelessly flaky speech about the separation of legal powers, and the role of the Government within that. The gist of it was that Camerlot made the laws and interpreted how those laws should work, while the police did what they were told. Somehow, the judges got a mention only in so far as they were often wrong, and thus needed to be re-engineered in some way – probably by the tabloid media.
There are few dangers to liberty greater than privileged ignorance feeding a populist media, although given the events of the last eight days, the Court of Camerlot seems to have lost an awful lot if its shine, and not a little of its power. Nevertheless, both the Judiciary and the police received Cameron’s speech loud and clear. Up until now there have only been rumblings and the odd letter to the Times. The decision to arrest Rebekah Brooks before Tuesday, however, is a clear and unmistakeable action by the police to say, “This is our business, please reverse tanks off lawn”.
I have to report that I find this act entirely healthy, and a glimmer of hope (perhaps) that just maybe there are still coppers in the Met who understand what their job is. Sue Akers undoubtedly does, and the Slog has learned that this was 98% her idea. My sliver of optimism rests solely on placing the timing of this arrest into the context of the last 35 years.
Ever since the Old Left tried to take over from Parliament in the 1970s, the police have become increasingly politicised. Strike-breaking, demo-bashing, Westminster MP’s office rifling and so forth have become their unhappy stock in trade. At the same time, the senior ranks have turned into adept politicians in their own right, doing the bidding of New Even Madder Labour on the prosecution of political Thought Crime with gusto. Homophobic remarks, every form of ism, and the ludicrously titled Hate Crime sectors have been exhaustively sought out – while the cars, credit cards, and domestic home contents of Britain have been nicked at will.
This has in turn led to the top bods in the flat caps being increasingly ‘media savvy’. Policeman Andy Hayman was easily the smartest operator in this field, and I would bet several tickets to the Secret Policeman’s Ball that he still has not a clue that he was wrong to use it in the way he did. I have seen wrestlers feign injury with far more acting ability than this pompous man managed in the Keith Vaz Star Chamber last week; but his general attitude and demeanour is fairly standard in the Met’s senior ranks. These idiots thought eating steak frites and profiteroles with Newscorp was somehow something the ‘modern’ police force had to do.
What we have now, therefore, is the cops in a menage a trois with the media and the politicians. Inevitably, this led to blind eyes, deals and bungs among the three….along with threats to ‘bury’ anyone it saw standing outside the tent with the potential to p**s into it.
But a few officers (some of them retired) saw the light some time ago, and Ms Akers is one of them. So far she has decided to ignore all those who are constitutionally illiterate and ethically bereft, preferring instead to get to the task of banging people up. But the police themselves have for long had a few kangaroo-Court ideas in this area too. The practice of hiring bent ‘expert’ witnesses to jail single mothers for the social services, plant evidence on serial drug-dealer suspects they’ve never managed to nick, and invent certain body movements during arrests, is still widespread across all Britain’s police forces. Having to watch this incompetence, corruption and media-rousing from every conceivable angle sit Britain’s judges – for many years now the whipping boys of every why-oh-why tabloid from the Daily Wail to the Daily Starkers.
A minority of Britain’s judges are themselves bent. Not a large minority, mind you – but not a tiny one either. You can’t follow the trail of paedophile crime and the Secret Family Courts in the UK without reaching the conclusion that some judges are degenerate, and one or two are criminal predators of the worst kind. This minority represents the main abuse of gagging orders in Britain: we all hear about Ryan Gaggs and so forth, but the bread and butter stuff is largely concerned with covering up incompetence, corruption and perversion at local level.
However, the great majority of judges do not deliver incoherent summings-up and/or daft sentences. What they do is listen to the police and defence arguments, read Acts of Parliament, try to divine WTF the EU is on about, and deliver a judgement based on all of those data. This is not a job for the faint-hearted or senile, but then very few judges are either of those. The best thing about the judiciary is that it takes, on the whole, no notice whatsoever of what the media prints and thinks.
In short, judges interpret the law. Much of it is carelessly drafted and confusingly written by Ministers and their Sir Humphreys; police lie and pervert justice; bent briefs do the bidding of highly valued clients; sentencing guidance is useful up to but not including guidance; and at any minute, the media might wind up vote-centric politicians, thus bringing even sillier and anti-libertarian legal instruments onto their radar.
But judges too have noted the rank hypocrisy of Camerlot, and decided to reinforce their position as being entirely above the political cock-fight – and entirely separate from the agendas of Party Leaders who believe that a soundbite a day keeps the wolves at bay. In this sense, Justice Vos has come through Hackgate with more steely dignity than most of the rest of the players put together. Without Vos, I can assure you, Newscorp could easily have got way with it.
The bottom line is very simple. Legislators sit in the nation’s Sovereign body, Parliament. They pass Bills and frame instruments which become Law. They do it badly and often for the worst of reasons. The police’s job is to prosecute, without fear or favour, all those who break that law, and deliver suspects to the Courts. They perform that task incredibly badly most of the time, and sometimes for corrupt reasons. The judiciary guides juries and takes views in each individual case brought before them, sometimes using reporters in Court as a means of pointing out when those laws they’re given are asses. Most of the time they do the job quite well; and almost always, they ignore (or bridle at) political criticism as being very probably based on grubby motives*.
My conclusion is that this is a media-police-Government mess, in which the judiciary is scarcely involved at all. But whatever one’s personal take on this is, Separation of Powers is the only way a State can deliver equality before the Law. And without that equality, there can be no citizen protection, no guarantee of citizen liberty, and no true democracy. If the Establishment learns no lesson beyond this from Hackgate, then all this upheaval will have been worthwhile
As I sit here tapping away, there is (I’m glad to remark) a recognition in most media channels that the course of investigation and prosecution of criminal activity must take precedence over what is, essentially, a political scrum. This too I find healthy: Parliament is our sovereign body, but it is not impotent. The police have a job to do: the time has come for them to follow the judges’ example by ignoring the ego-driven squeals of spineless MPs keen to get a moment in the spotlight.
Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation press conference is on BBCNews on a near-loop. The bloke seems decent enough, but he is still smug – and firmly stuck in arse-covering mode. He says he didn’t suspect Neil Wallis, which makes him a lousy copper. And he hired him in the first place, which makes him a lousy judge of character.
David Cameron showed the same odd melange of sloppy naivety in hiring Coulson and befriending Brooks. I’ll be writing about his likely fate tomorrow.