Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How crime proceeds

Back in 2002 one day the front page of the Daily Mail fulminated about drug criminals profiting from their illegally gained fortune. Whichever vindictive bastard we then had as a Home Secretary (I know, doesn’t narrow it down, does it?) read his Daily Mail over his breakfast, choked, and hurriedly scribbled down an Act on his napkin that would remedy the situation. He was able to courier it to the House, fast track it through the committee stage and it was law by elevenses.

Or something like that. I may have glossed over some of the details. The point is, we now have the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, a.k.a. POCA, which says that offenders convicted of a drugs-related offence can have their assets seized. And why not? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this could. The Times reports that a man with a drugs record was suspected – only suspected – of having gained his £4m fortune illegally, and so his assets were frozen. Obviously it went to court and he needed a defence, but because his assets were frozen, he couldn’t afford a decent barrister skilled in drugs law and no such barrister was prepared to work for the legal aid rate. So when it came to court, on the one hand we had the full might and majesty of the Crown Prosecution Service and on the other a financially embarrassed millionaire with no qualified representation. And so the judge halted the proceedings as an abuse of process – there was no chance of the guy getting a fair trial under English law. Whether he was guilty or not we will never know.

Yeah, go POCA!

Alternatively, chalk up one more victim to New Labour’s smugly self-righteous delusion that the affairs of man can be micro-managed by legislation, and if only everyone would apply the law exactly as it was meant to be applied when it was rushed through Parliament then everyone would be better off. I’m sorry, examine the legislation? Think ahead, try to predict and head off the unintended consequences? How could there possibly be unintended consequences? Look, we’re fighting the bad guys here. What is your problem?

Even Thatcher was never so smugly self-righteous as the current shower. Self-righteous, yes, but as far as she was concerned, if you didn’t agree with her then go screw yourselves because she was going to do it anyway. Which ultimately was her downfall. Thatcher, strange to think, had a certain minimal faith in human nature - that people could at least think for themselves (which they did, hence why she got chucked out). But Labour now has no faith in you, me, or itself, and certainly not the courts, which is why it has to fiddle and fine tune the law at every step. We’re all morons, needing legislation to guide us through every moment of our lives. There is no spirit of the law. Just the letter.

If Labour was an author, it would write a fairly decent and digestible 80,000 word novel, then gradually crank it up to about 500,000 words with endless explanatory paragraphs, adjectives and changing points of view so that at no stage was the reader’s imagination challenged, or indeed, exercised.

If Labour was a band, it would start as a bunch of mates in a garage with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. It would then spend the next ten years over-producing an album in which every instrument (having gradually worked their up to a full orchestra, multi-ethnic choir and musique concrète) was balanced at exactly the right output for optimal listening on one particular highly specialised make of speaker, but rubbish for more popular brands that people actually use.

If Labour was a web designer it would start with a few simple lines of HTML and then Flash and Shockwave it out of existence.

Sadly Labour is none of the above. It’s our government.

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