So what about the recent Court of Appeal ruling by the Hon Mr Justice Bean QC? – ‘Swearing at police is not a crime because officers hear foul language “all too frequently” to be offended’ – (telegraph.co.uk)…
Social networks and the media have, quite understandably, been full of vociferous debate on the matter, most of it born from the myriad of differing issues involved. For what on the face of it is a fairly simple ruling, it also has the propensity for some substantial and mostly negative impacts upon our society.
Whether you agree with the ruling or not, it’s not just about the shouting of “fuck off” at a cop, it also raises a raft of additional questions. Important ones that revolve around the whole concept of law and order, and the stability/framework of our society.
Not wanting to formulate or express any stereotypical image, based simply upon ethnicity, or even the statistical information (see here) which implies; young black people are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system, my initial question raised by this case is simply, why?
Why is there often so much friction and/or conflict during interactions between the police and young people today, but especially (although not exclusively), those of Afro–Caribbean origins, or indeed any other non-white ethnic background? It’s not so much about the actual words used per se, it’s all about the tone and delivery of the language used or delivered, that and one simple word…Respect!
Respect denotes both a positive feeling of esteem for a person or other entity (such as a nation or a religion), and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem. Respect can be a specific feeling of regard for the actual qualities of the one respected (e.g., “I have great respect for her judgment”). It can also be conduct in accord with a specific ethic of respect. Rude conduct is usually considered to indicate a lack of respect…(wikipedia.org)
‘Respect’ is a word which by necessity, means it must be applied in a tolerant and two-way manner between individuals however; ‘respect’ also relates to our society as a whole. Respect for the legal framework which holds it all together. Unfortunately, that type of respect is also so lacking that it is almost non-existent.
Whether or not there was any element of that old Ali G retort, “you is picking on my coz I is black” (as partly alleged by the mother of Denzel Cassius Harvey, the appellant – see here), is mostly irrelevant to the bigger issue here. Another question that begs to be asked is; was the case actually ‘Harvey’s’ legal challenge and, was it an action taken by him for being wronged by the police, or was it taken to appease the neo-liberal PC brigade? Or even worse, simply the actions of a legal team having a pop at the system? A case randomly ‘cherry picked’ by lawyers in furtherance of their own importance and legal careers.
In light of the Stephen Lawrence murder in 1993 (news again) and the subsequent MacPherson Report, there is often an inherent ‘fear’ held by many police officers, of getting anything even remotely wrong, when dealing with non-whites. Due to that factor alone, I would be highly surprised if there had been an Ali G element, at least not from the officers involved I would hope, unless bigoted or totally stupid.
I do fully appreciate that it could have been possible, after all, our police supposedly reflect our society. A society that is often intolerant, inherently self-interested and mostly rude however; I suspect it more likely that the appellant (or his legal team) actually chose to play the race card, in furtherance of their debunking any charge from the incident. It would be interesting to have seen the outcome of a case involving a caucasian appellant, if it ever actually reached court in the first place?
That said, there is no doubt the legal team would adopt the moral high ground and defend their right to challenge our legal system. In part I would agree, no one wants to see any travesty of justice or indeed, someone convicted of an offence they didn’t commit. However, as I’ve said previously, this case is about so much more than the actual offence committed, one that was mostly proven and still remains largely unchallenged.
Racial issues aside, but wholly relevent to the case all the same, Janet Daley writing in The Telegraph recently pointed out: Would a judge like to be told to eff off in court? She also highlighted how “permitting people to swear freely at police undermines the rule of law and civilised society.”
“If the police are not worthy of civility in the streets, and teachers cannot command respect in the classroom, and conscientious parents are not supported by the community, we are on the way to creating a country that is not worth living in.” – (Janet Daley)
One of the fundamental and overriding principles of law enforcement in the UK has always been ‘Policing by Consent‘ a system whereby – “the police are the public and the public are the police” – however and partly due to this case, we now have to ask; is this still the accepted and fully understood foundation stone that it once was? More importantly, with the current levels of disrespect for authority of any kind (not just the police), is it a principle that’s actually working any more? In addition, is it an ideology still fit for purpose in the 21st century? All questions being raised (and partly answered) in the piece below…
Why People Obey the Law: …Normally, we ask the question round the other way, trying to understand what it is that causes people to break the law. But it is just as interesting and potentially informative to invert the proposition and consider the reasons citizens have for staying on the straight and narrow…(bbc.co.uk)
Although our system of appeal is also a fundamental cornerstone of our legal system, unfortunately it’s also a system that is often abused. Too often, and not without considerable expense to the public purse, lawyers are bringing actions which not only challenge a particular piece of legislation but also, actually have the ability to undermine the whole fabric of our (mostly) law-abiding society.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe is not alone when he says that he is “deeply disappointed” by the court ruling. Thankfully (and rightly) he intimated his force would continue to arrest people who direct foul language at police officers.
I believe the police must continue to apply the law as written, until it is changed by due legal process, and not just at the whim of one judge. The public must also accept and respect that legislation along with those tasked with law enforcement, so long as they are operating correctly and within the law. Failure on either part leads us down the unsavoury road to anarchy, and the possibility of legislation more akin to the martial laws of dictatorships.
In my opinion, the ruling delivered by Mr Justice Bean QC is probably more worthy of being attributed to Mr Bean, as opposed to a respected and (supposedly) intelligent member of the British Judiciary.
- Policemen shouldn’t have to put up with abuse from foul-mouthed yobs (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Met Police chief: officers will still arrest swearing suspects despite court ruling (telegraph.co.uk)
- Judge: it’s no crime to swear at police, they are used to it (telegraph.co.uk)
- Police are regularly sworn at – but it’s not the words that matter | Ellie Bloggs (guardian.co.uk)