A Mockery of Justice, by Chris White

It is always hard to predict the future but one thing seems certain right now: Boris Johnson and his associates are all but finished. Europe will likely soon be dealing with a new United Kingdom government.

It was Catherine the Great who stated: “Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing”. Not so much has changed since that profound comment. On that theme more than 2000 years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, perhaps even more aptly: “How can you hide from what never goes away”?

The current UK regime can neither escape nor hide from the reports of shocking drunkenness and appalling behaviour in Downing Street while the rest of the nation was under strict lockdown.

Boris Johnson Beer Party

Measures announced to help people survive what is rapidly becoming a global economic crisis will not deflect public criticism of their leaders’ behaviour.

It should be recognised that there is a reasonable point of view that the scandal may not, in fact, be all that the media and political opponents have made of it, but the whole affair generally is appalling. That such an important issue should have been tried in court is a given. In court prosecutors and defence can present their facts for judges, not the media, to decide.

Again it was Aesop, an ancient Greek, who stated “We hang petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office". Why don’t we throw in an observation by Heraclitus, another ancient Greek who stated: “Man’s character is his fate”. Character seems to be the correct focus where issues like breaches of COVID rules by government officials are concerned.

The relevance of the above is that people who suffered loss of family they could not visit in their dying days will never forgive the people associated with so called ‘Partygate’ in the premises of top government offices. They surely deserve their day in court, as the saying goes.

A statement said to be of an official involved to the effect that “We got away with that” made headlines the day after but if true it is a massive overstatement and denial of reality.

Prime Minister Johnson apologised to the House of Commons following the official report into what went on. But again, this is far from the end of the matter.

Now let me be clear: the fines imposed on the Prime Minister and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak are not recordable offences. That is to say they are not classified as a criminal record. But they will not be forgotten and it may yet be concluded that parliamentary standards were flouted.

Nor will many of the scandalous reports that have involved members of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and other high places in recent years and months. In some cases no action was taken: in others resignation was a result. Some offenders in high places have been prosecuted but the overall public impression is that politicians and the ruling classes generally appear to be outside the law.

On that note it is important to remember that some 25 million people in the England and Wales have criminal records both serious and minor that remain on record for 100 years from their date of birth. At the end of this year all of those not in jail will be required to declare their convictions to obtain an ETIAS - European Travel Information and Authorisation System - visa or visa waiver.

Serious offenders are not the issue but minor offenders whose convictions are many years in the past are also included. There is, in reality, no such thing as a spent offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a somewhat inadequate expungement system involving a 25 year span which includes serious offences). All EU countries have ways of offering citizens a new start.

Prime Minister Johnson was not responsible for the BREXIT referendum result but he was in charge of the terms that it involved. So the British people must now engage in the EU visa process. He was in charge when power was given to police to fine people without going to court - including himself and Rishi Sunak. His loss of respect is, at least in part, due to his government’s abandonment of the proper legal process that would have controlled the media circus, at least until findings of guilt, in a proper court of law.

There have been a large number of questionable results of the police actions. One young student who held a party for a few friends - said to be seven - was fined £10,000, expelled from his university and left with no job and deeply in debt. He is not alone in this police punishment policy that bypassed court hearings and proper judgement.

Police in the UK have acquired more and yet more powers under the controversial Police and Crime Bill that passed through Parliament in April. The bill covers public protests with penalties amounting to £2,500 for perhaps waving a banner while uttering their views through a loudspeaker amounting to obstructing the police. Such offences will surely count as criminal records.

Yet more police powers are now being discussed in the halls of government. So it is perhaps worth remembering the words of America’s Thomas Jefferson: “Experience hath shewn (sic), that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny”.

Other countries are experiencing similar tendencies. The Pegasus spyware scandal in Spain is just one example.

As the new EU travel checks come into force there is, it may appear at the moment, no serious threat to stop minor offenders travelling to Europe but new and more comprehensive United States visa requirements are also coming into force putting a quarter of the UK population at risk of entry refusal.

Before BREXIT the European Court of Human Rights had serious issues with the failure of the UK to introduce a system of expungement as exists in one form or another in countries throughout the EU and beyond, including many American states. Expungement, it must be stated, applies in general principal to minor and non-violent offences.

I have been advised by a legal expert that the UK’s relatively recent introduction of expunging juvenile offences is not an accurate presentation “as they are still on record but only available to the appropriate authorities”. So, not available unless one applies for a visa?

A question then arising is whether the EU will, like the UK, find itself out of step with the European Court of Human Rights when ETIAS commences by requiring all offences to be declared rather than just serious ones or those related to terrorism. They should note, for example that minor offences that stay on the record for life in the UK are expunged after three years in Germany. Surely the EU should not be denying British people their human rights?

The UK is looking ever increasingly as if it is on the road to being an autocratic police state and it is not alone. But let’s get back to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political future: could he pull off a recovery by introducing legislation or measures to calm and then win over public opinion?

He will undoubtedly try, should he be given the time, so perhaps he should put the UK in line with the rest of Europe by introducing a proper system of expungement. That might win over about a quarter of the population plus their immediate relatives - possibly more than doubling the number - who right now must be wondering if they will be able to holiday in Europe, let alone America, next year.

As things now stand Boris Johnson will not be barred from travelling to EU countries due to his fine but will he have to declare it if he is required to apply for a visa to visit the EU or USA?

Perhaps both he and everyone else should note another comment by Heraclitus: “Abundance of knowledge does not teach men to be wise”. Everywhere people are beginning to ask whether democracy will survive or will autocracy take over? The signs appear to be that democracy is getting weaker and needs defending we need to put wise people in charge.

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs.

Now writing for EUToday, Chris has his own column, 'Chris's Corner'.

Chris is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK and the oldest in the world, having been founded in October 1884

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