Breaking rocks in the noonday sun I'll claim compo when I'm done
- contemporary prison ballad
Here are some disconnected thoughts provoked by the news that 198 convicted heroin addicted criminals are to be paid compensation by the government after threatening a human rights lawsuit because they were 'upset' that they weren't given opiates for as long as they would have liked while in prison. On top of, you know, all the other things that have been happening the past few years.
I have been trying my hardest not to write about this, because what's the point? It has become clear by now that God Himself has struck down our nation with mass insanity as punishment for sins I can only guess at, and it behooves us to endure this meekly until such time as it pleases Him to avert His awful Wrath. Our politicians are not stupid or wicked, they are agents of divine retribution, the heaven-appointed angels of our destruction, and as such we must accept whatever torments they choose to inflict with humble submission.
However, even the patience of Job had its limits, and I keep coming across semi-legible screeds on this topic scribbled on the backs of envelopes, which I have little recollection of writing: in the interests of putting an end to them I should try to get my feelings off my chest: if I cobble together the more coherent and cut out the more saliva-flecked passages perhaps something readable will emerge. Or I could not bother and just transcribe my notes in any old order as I pick them up off the floor. Yes, that sounds like favourite.
1. Methadone programs in prison - Is it kind? Yes. Sensible? Quite possibly. A human right? No.
It's a pretty poor show if they can't find their own drugs in prison anyway. Maybe it's not so bad rewarding criminal behaviour - our honours system is based on it - but we absolutely cannot start rewarding a feeble lack of initiative.
2. There are, or should be, no human rights, only duties and privileges.
3. No, I don't really mean that, or at least I feel obliged to pretend I don't. But it's becoming like in that James Belushi film where he's a loose-cannon cop reading someone their rights and he's all, 'You have the right to cable TV,' and on and on and on.
The following, I think, are human rights:
The right to a fair trial
The right not to be sold into slavery, married against your will, etc.
The right not to have electrodes attached to your bollocks without good reason
Free speech, I suppose, if you have something worthwhile to say and you don't annoy me
Beyond that and you start getting into the realm of politics, and whose definition of rights do we use, and to decide that kind of question is what we elect people to parliament for and nothing should trump that. For example, I might think it should be a human right to be left the hell alone in your own home, but the Labour Party would argue, no, that interferes with their right to snoop in people's bins, or to force people to sing to their children, and the rights of criminals to burgle you without risk of injury, so it wouldn't be fair, if I was framing a human rights act, to impose my political opinions on them.
4. I think, actually, it is the misappropriation of the once noble term 'human rights' that really sticks in my craw about these cases.
Because at school I took part in Amnesty International campaigns, and we would send little cards containing messages of solidarity and hope to people in dictatorships around the world who had been unfairly incarcerated and cruelly tortured, and it was all stuff like this:
(Oh, I have to digress to tell you, though, on one occasion Nick, one of the naughty boys in our class, sent a card to bloody Alexander Solzhenitsyn or similar that ran as follows:)
To the best of my memory there was nothing like this:
You know what I mean? Twenty years ago if you heard the words 'breach of human rights' you automatically thought 'prisoner of conscience' and 'torture'; now you're more likely to think 'chancing scrounger' and 'baby deprived of its lollipop.' Which is a debasement of the concept.
5. The much-quoted story about the imprisoned serial killer who used the Human Rights Act to get access to hard-core porn turns out to be a canard, though, or almost - the judge threw the case out. But they certainly tried.
6. On the other hand, another fun news story to look forward to:
A lifer is suing for the right to start a family by artificial insemination
And we can look forward to half the prison population suing for overcrowding because the jails are full and the government won't build any more, except they won't have to, because they'll just let people out early, or stop locking them up in the first place, more than they do already.
7. You hear a couple of heart-warming stories about the Human Rights Act having been used for Good Things, e.g. an elderly married couple who apparently used it to stop their local authority splitting them up and putting them in different care homes; but nothing, I think, that existing legislation or a good MP or newspaper campaign wouldn't have remedied, or failing that new and specifically targeted legislation.
None of them begin to make up for this kind of insanity.
8. I keep hearing that the 1998 Human Rights Act contains nothing that the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights didn't, and merely enshrines its concepts in British law and speeds the claims process up by no longer requiring people to seek redress via Strasbourg. Well, up to a point, and for my money we should simply withdraw from the ECHR as well. However, that assertion would appear to be somewhat disingenuous - this is from 'A Guide To The Human Rights Act' (pdf) by the 'Justice' organisation:
Their bold. In other words, the judges can really get creative.
9. Reading about something else I just stumbled on this beautiful quote from Pierre Trudeau:
It is hard to create counter-weights when one tendency is enshrined as holy writ.
10. We don't need any artificial bill of rights. We already had an organic body of law guaranteeing our liberties accumulated painfully and carefully over the centuries. But the lack of some rigid constitution enabled us to be flexible and sensible. Common sense and consensus are far more important and ultimately the best safeguard for freedom is a tradition of and public feeling for justice, fairness, decency and reasonable liberty. Continued assaults on sanity and morality undermine that public support.
11. Yes, governments want watching, and the judiciary have a role to play in that. But who watches the watchmen?
12. If the government have, as appears, resigned themselves to the fact that they are the judiciary's bitches and judges wield the real power in the country, we have to take steps to make the judiciary accountable to the will of the people. Namely, by having elected judges. For High Court judges, national elections, where you would get a clear choice between different candidates for an appointment with a limited term of office, and there'd be a website or something spelling out their records and tendencies, like:
Marjory Girlsblouse, age 39
Sentencing: 20% more lenient than average
Notable Cases: Scrote v Dodderer, held that an assaulted pensioner was liable for the cost of cleaning her blood off her attacker's trainers
Publications: Author of the book All They Need Is Love: The Case For Caring For Serial Killers Within The Community
Cuthbert Torquemada, age 103
Sentencing: 50% more savage than average
Notable Cases: Jones v Jones, child custody case: ordered that the infant in question be chopped in half as both parties were clearly social undesirables anyway
Publications: Author of the pamphlets Why We Should Hang People, Slowly, With Bungee Ropes and The Birch: Nature's Own Remedy For Teenage Delinquency
...And then we would at least have a say in what we were getting. Assuming we could even find any Judge B's any more.
13. As an aside and talking of lenient sentences, leave aside burglars and muggers being sentenced to a medal and a pat on the back, how long in prison would you think a man would get for sexually abusing his stepdaughter from the age of 6 to 16? Fifteen years? Twenty? Life? I just came across one where he got four, reduced on appeal to three; automatic parole after serving two-thirds of that, soon to be a half; and that in turn got appealed under a Human Rights thing. Maybe she was asking for it.
14. Another thing I keep hearing is that 'if this sort of thing carries on there's going to be a backlash.' No there's not. There's a backlash in our heads. Even a formerly moderate liberal like me will take to daydreaming about vigilantism and hanging people, slowly, with bungee ropes. As individuals we should, I suppose, strive to feel compassion and pity for those who have fallen from grace - again, I don't really believe that, but I feel obliged to pretend it - but the state must be the pitiless instrument of justice. Currently, the roles are reversed, with hilarious consequences.
But a backlash in the real world, no. We don't know how to backlash. Everyone's waiting for someone else to start the revolution. This sort of thing will just go on and on and all we'll do is seethe and swear to ourselves. All that will happen will be that half the law-abiding taxpayers will get fed up and emigrate, as they already are in droves.
15. To hell with being calm and rational. What on earth has happened to us? What is wrong with you people? Do you think you're being radical, carrying on like this? 'The bandit is not a proletarian. The bandit is a bourgeouis who preys on the proletariat.' Brecht.
People are in prison to be punished and to learn to be good. There should be no amenities in prison except a bible and a set of Dostoyevsky in every cell.
(Jeffrey Archer, on the other hand, would be a breach of human rights.)
16. It wasn't meant to be like this.
I was recently re-reading E. Nesbit. As well as being an author Nesbit was a founder of the Fabian Society, the pioneering socialist movement. In 'The Story of the Amulet', written in 1906, some children have a delightful series of time-travel adventures via a magic charm. At one point they visit the future and find the kind of socialist utopia the Fabians and others were hoping for and working towards.
There are beautiful gardens and statues and splashing fountains. '"It's like a lovely picture," said Anthea, and it was. For the people's clothes were of bright, soft colours and all beautifully and very simply made... And among the trees were hung lamps of coloured glass.' No-one is rude or unkind; everyone is free from worry.
The houses are functional but beautiful with very safe nurseries for children. 'Men, as well as women, were in charge of the babies and were playing with them.' Adults who drop litter are fined, children harshly shunned. There are no beggars or tramps; everyone has a good standard of living. Nesbit's fellow Fabian H.G. Wells is reverenced as 'the great reformer' and many of his ideas adopted.
Now get this. This is a rhyme the children of the future-socialist-Fabian-utopia are taught at school:
'I must not steal and I must learn,
Nothing is mine that I do not earn.
I must try in work and play
To make things beautiful every day.
I must be kind to everyone,
And never let cruel things be done.
I must be brave, and I must try
When I am hurt never to cry,
And always laugh as much as I can,
And be glad that I'm going to be a man
To work for my living and help the rest
And never do less than my very best.'
Today that reads like something out of a Tory utopian fantasy - old-fashioned Tory, pre Group-Hug Dave. It's also the only way a socialistic society or indeed any liveable society could be made to work.
27th Nov 06
Back to Index Page
Related Link: a dissenting Draft Report presented to the parliamentary Joint Committee On Human Rights, not adopted.
PS Jan 07: Political corruption is now a human right
Added Dec 08:
Judge Tells Woman She's Too Honest To Testify Against Her Attacker
Criminals get compensated for early release from prison