A close-up on why it takes so long in the Enquiring Committee Culture to get Justice.
As a part-historian by training, I’m often fascinated by what future commentators will make of a particular era in which I’m living. But I suspect there won’t be too much arguing about the second ten years of the 21st century. Tomorrow’s historians will call these, our days of enquiries, The Denouement Decade: the changeover time when it finally dawned on the ordinary, depoliticised citizen that the wasters we pay to do stuff for us have forgotten the identity of their employers.
But for us now, living through it largely unaware of all that, the challenge is to work out why this denouement is taking so long to unfold.
The banking, media, political, judicial, legal, commercial and policing agencies up there where the air is rarified work for themselves and each other – not for the people who pay them sight deposits free, buy their products, give them votes, and hand them near-untrammelled power to catch and try criminals.
It’s the main reason why, for instance, the new collective noun for political investigation should surely be an infinity of Enquiries. Enquiries are not set up to hold people to account, but rather to hold up the process of prosecution until such time as the public loses interest. In the US and the UK since 2008, we have all sat, angrily bored, while umpteen committees and variously termed quasi-juries of incompetent investigators ask the Uberklass questions they expect, avoid, filibuster through, lie their way out of, and generally claim to have super-moral standpoints about – “I am shocked/appalled/when I was told, I felt sick/this sort of behaviour is unacceptable in my company” – until all of us at home want to either (a) hurl the channel-changer at the screen or (b) hurl our dinner everywhere.
The most aggressive form of this How Very Dare You I’ve experienced so far was the senior UK former cop Andy Hayman, an associate of the multiple-resigner about nothing Andy Coulson who, when asked whether he had ever taken money from a journalist, went into a routine of Insulted Angel after the style of a tinpot soap character: “I mean, really, well. Good God. I mean…Mr Chairman, that question is totally out of order”. But the facts show that he has taken a large Murdoch shilling as a ‘crime reporter’, as a result of which not many crime reports have appeared.
There is no socio-judicial purpose whatsoever to the holding of enquiries where the interrogators are showboating, and the accused have no fear of the law’s wrath. It is nothing more than the wannabe famous in pursuit of the accidentally infamous. It is a sham about a scam, a third-rate provincial chorus line trying to lasso a smoke-ring: but mainly, it represents the Establishment systematically felling trees in the road being trodden by weary and increasingly cynical seekers after justice.
The obvious intent of these gatherings is given away by the associated Freudian protesting of the linguistics. Mr Cameron will tell us he wants to be clear about the rigour, when he really wants to stir up the river-bed with vigour. A N Other Minister lays emphasis on the words ‘full judicial’ enquiry, as if there might be such a thing as a half-empty kangaroo Court. The enquiry billed as ‘invesigating without fear or favour’ lives in a world where the police investigate people and things for political reasons, fear doing the wrong things for their careers, and favour the rich and powerful.
But the idea is there for all to see once the committee gets under way, because everyone at the Dispatch Box or facing a Congressional Committee can say – when asked the 64 trillion dollar question – “I think it would be wrong for any of us to prejudice the enquiry currently looking into this matter”. This and this alone enabled the serial-shady character Jeremy Hunt to evade disgrace and keep his job when (for once) the media truly were focused on one vital fact: he had lied to the House of Commons.
These delaying tactics have, so far, been all that’s required to keep everyone important involved in Hackgate, Hunt Balls and the Libor Party out of jail – even out of a Court trial process. But that’s changing now. Andy Coulson will stand trial for perjury in Scotland (asuming they don’t make the Digger King Rupert I in the interim) and Rebekah Brooks will face criminal conspiracy charges. The second point of the ubiquitous Enquiry will thus come to the fore very soon: to act as a means of screwing up the trial process by claiming Inability to get a Fair Trial. It is only a matter of time.
When that time comes, the shock troops ambushing the knackered media and blogosphere detectives will be, to a man and woman, lawyers. Today, Britain is run – literally, in every sense – by lawyers: every new law is another pointless job created, and every badly-written piece of ill-judged legislation another task for those arguing the precedents this way and that. In our hospitals, the entire culture is driven at management level by a spineless fear of litigation, as are our workplaces and remaining factories – where the equally unproductive sign-writing sector of the economy is kept busy day and night churning out notices saying everything from ‘Warning – hot water’ to ‘May contain nuts’.
Media sales and legal marketers work hand in glove to encourage a culture of all blame and no responsibility – such that Daytime TV is nowadays a cavalcade of ‘no award, no fee’ mendacity masquerading as some kind of social service: “Have you driven your car pissed witless into a tree? We can help you sue the Council that put the tree there. No award, no fee, no tree”. And a week after the court case, along comes the sign writer to attach ‘Warning: tree present’ on that Oak dating back to 1635.
The obvious anti-social and culturally corrosive nature of this sort of advertising is one thing the overwhelming majority of citizens would like to see stopped tomorrow. Is it on the Parliamentary agenda? It is not. Why not? Because a disturbing proportion of MPs are lawyers. Compared to their incidence in the population, lawyers were 343% over-represented in the last New Labour controlled House of Commons; at Cabinet level, they were 3800% over-represented.
There are more lawyers per capita in the UK now than at any time in history: there is one lawyer per 401 people in Britain, and one per 265 people in the US. That puts Britain 4th in the global league table. The US has 50% of all the lawyers in the world, and Britain has 17 times as many lawyers per capita as Japan. Japan suffers 1.3 robberies per 100,ooo – while the figure for England and Wales is 1.03 ….but 8.7 for the United States. Obviously, it isn’t the lawyer’s job to catch criminals; what I’m pointing out is an inverse correlation between the new lawyers coming through, and the amount of crime going on. Ergo sum, lawyers are not generally engaged in prosecuting those preying on society. On the whole, they encourage the growth of ambulance chasers preying on both economy and State.
Hardly surprising, then, that your chances of being convicted of a crime are falling. The Crown Prosecution Service (in case you hadn’t noticed) is flat broke. They blame the police, the police blame the cps, and both of them blame the Government.
Our legal system was originally drawn up to protect aristocrats from mad monarchs. Briefly from the late 19th century onwards, it was designed to alleviate the condition of the poor (occasionally) and later still to protect the weak and vulnerable from the lawlessly privileged in our society. Today the legal system operates to bully the vulnerable (Newscorp) protect the powerful (Met Police) ignore the wind-sailors (Jeremy Hunt) arrest the politically incorrect (Stonewall) control the media (Andrew Marr) and recognise fewer and fewer financial crimes as worthy of their attention (Barclays and RBS). In 2012, the main thing the legal system needs protection from is the lawyers running it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m all enquiried out. I want collars felt, stool-pigeons singing, politicians going down the tubes, lawyers cut down to size. In short, I want justice.
“Justice must be seen to be done,” as we used to say at one time. The contemporary definition is slightly different: “Justice must appear to be done, and preferably very, very slowly”.