Wednesday, 29 June 2011

R. v Haddock (Is it a Free Country?)

The Australian:

In December last year, after WikiLeaks's publication of a large volume of leaked US diplomatic cables, Australia's Prime Minister agreed with US leaders that WikiLeaks founder, Australian citizen Julian Assange, must have broken the law. This proved to be a premature over-reaction. Not only was the law Assange had broken not identified, but the Australian Federal Police could not identify him as having broken any law.




THE Court of Criminal Appeal considered to-day an important case involving the rights and liberties of the subject, if any.

Lord Light, L.C.J.: This is in substance an appeal by an appellant appealing in statu quo against a decision of the West London Half-Sessions, confirming a conviction by the magistrates of South Hammersmith sitting in Petty Court some four or five years ago. The ancillary proceedings have included two hearings in sessu and an appeal rampant on the case, as a result of which the record was ordered to be torn up and the evidence reprinted backwards ad legem. With these transactions, however, the Court need not concern itself, except to observe that, as for our learned brother Mumble, whose judgments we have read with diligence and something approaching to nausea, it were better that a millstone should be hanged round his neck and he be cast into the uttermost depths of the sea.

The present issue is one of comparative simplicity. That is to say, the facts of the case are intelligible to the least-instructed layman, and the only persons utterly at sea are those connected with the law. But factum clarum, jus nebulosum, or, 'the clearer the facts the more dubious the law'. What the appellant did in fact is simple and manifest, but what offence, if any, he has committed in law is a question of the gravest difficulty.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tim Wilkinson v Peter Hitchens on Cannabis and the Law - Part 1

These are my opening remarks in a debate on the legal status of recreational cannabis, agreed with Peter Hitchens, who will respond as time permits.

Neither of us is in favour of the status quo. I support full legalisation and regulation; he - I hope this is a fair characterisation - supports harsher penalties and stringent enforcement aimed at near-eradication of recreational cannabis use.

My remarks are intended as a starting point for debate - I've drawn on three of Hitchens's blog posts and addressed a variety of points (his remarks, taken from the specified blog post in each case, are in bold), without pretending to present a comprehensive manifesto for cannabis legalisation.

My starting point is that we should presume that behaviours should be legal, and then ask - are there good reasons to make this behaviour a criminal offence? My answer is no. Ordinary cannabis users derive great enjoyment and – yes – pleasure from their indulgence in the weed. Many report taking it in modest quantities and find that it aids relaxation, enhances their appreciation of food, music, art and sex, and even stimulates creativity. To deny these benefits by more effective prohibition would involve far more oppressive measures, for the sake of preventing abusive overindulgence and the risk of cancer which accompanies smoking (though not as far as I know ingestion or inhalation of vapour). Those risks could be adequately mitigated, or in the case of the cancer risk, properly and – one might hope - honestly  publicised, under legalisation and regulation.

Overblown claims about the dangers are rightly seen as ridiculous by those who know anything about it, which makes officialdom look foolish and means that even accurate information is likely to be disregarded. Legal regulated cannabis would be of known strength and free from such very harmful adulterants as wax, petrol, even plastic, which can be found in poor-quality illegal hashish. The current system already exposes users to criminal sanctions and means they must become involved at the margins of the criminal world to get hold of it, with the concomitant aversion to police and contempt for the law.

People need to be treated like adults, rather than infantilised by what some might refer to as the nanny state. Danger may be a reason for regulation, but with few exceptions like weapons, not for criminal sanctions on behaviour which need not be dangerous, and specifically not dangerous to others.

Spurious Retraction: Goldstone

This is overdue; I'd been planning a longish post analysing the Goldstone 'retraction' which Israel and allies have of course accepted at face value - face value, that is, if you're not reading too closely and stick to the headline message.

But I think Ha'aretz pretty well has the essentials covered, and even provides an explanation for the spurious retraction.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Fear and Loathing in the Press Pack

An assortment of vids illustrating the stitch-ups and shut-outs of the corporate media, in case you hadn't noticed anything amiss. Got round to posting these as a result of Bensix's coverage of the media's non-coverage of the indoor pachyderm that is the Bilderberg Group's latest meeting.

First, a feature from BBC Radio 4's PM from 25 May 2011. Eddie Mair discusses press subservience with a sample of 4 hacks, the sample suitably diluted by the presence of fashion, sport and gossip correspondents. Ridicule is mentioned as a common means of keeping awkward correspondents in line, but another method, banning them, is also mentioned as what seems a pretty robust back-up plan.

(Quote from Humbert Wolfe.)

Next, a couple of clips of everyone's favourite cartoon neocon John Bolton throwing his weight around, illustrating the US approach to these matters. (He claims not to be a neocon, not sure on what grounds - the moustache perhaps.) Rajesh Mirchandani should be sacked for the very mildly challenging interview shown, apparently - the mind boggles as to what treatment the intrepid correspondent in the second segment merits.

And finally, a reporter daring to ask interesting questions of a politician is firmly rebuffed by members of the US media clique:

The Difficulty of Cynicism - Julie Nicholson on the July 7 inquest

Julie Nicholson, relative of one of those who died in the Jul 7 attacks, frankly discusses her reaction to the coroner's report into the deaths, her desire to lay inquiry to rest and the need to adopt an attitude of trust, even though one may recognise that such trust is not objectively speaking merited.

Julie Nicholson interviewed by Eddie Mair for PM, BBC Radio 4, 6 May 2011

Friday, 17 June 2011

"We will never knowingly risk a civilian life" - ISAF

Lt-Col. Mark Wenham, speaking for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), enunciates a previously unknown rule of engagement for 'coalition' forces in Afghanistan. From an interview with Shaun Ley on The World at One, BBC Radio 4, 30th May 2011.

[UPDATE 24 Jun 2011: the LA Times reports an interesting response from Wenham's colleagues to what seems a reasonable request from the Afghan president:

Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul:  "This should be the last attack on people's houses. Such attacks will no longer be allowed."

His call was viewed as mainly symbolic. Western military officials cited existing cooperation with Afghan authorities and pledged to continue consultations, but said privately that Karzai's presidential authority does not include veto power over specific targeting decisions made in the heat of battle.

(via Glenn Greenwald, via Anonymous at Aaronovitch Watch)]

Walter Schwarz on the phenomenology of self-censorship

Walter Schwarz gives a creditably (and unusually) honest account of how and why he decided not to report outrageous remarks made by a member of the Likud party - remarks which were a forewarning of the official policies and attitudes of that party and of Israeli officialdom.

Taken from an interview with Libby Purves on Midweek, BBC Radio 4, Wed 5 May, 2011.