Mike Wolfe: Chris Huhne's jailing has left me questioning our justice system
WHEN I returned from my recent foreign travels, I heard that Chris Huhne was about to go to prison. I cheered inwardly.
At last, I thought to myself, they are locking up politicians who stand as Liberals and become Tories once they are elected.
I waited expectantly to hear that David Cameron would follow shortly for telling us that cuts in public expenditure had not slowed down economic growth.
I surmised that Tony Blair awaited sentence for crimes against humanity.
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Yes, you've got it; I don't like professional party politicians. I don't trust them and, as we used to say, 'come the revolution' I would have them all lined up and shot.
Then I discovered that Huhne awaited sentence not for crimes against democracy but for something called 'perverting the course of justice'.
Now British justice is something that I hold dear. It allows me the freedom to speak out without fear of censorship. More importantly, it allows me to remain silent if I am accused of a crime and not to incriminate myself. It requires the police to gather evidence to charge me and to prove my guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
It allows me a trial in front of a jury of my peers in an open court. It demands proportionate and fair sentences and proceedings, which are governed by hundreds of years of wise precedents.
Well, at least, that's the theory.
The trouble is that Tony Blair's government, in a hurry to end speeding, abandoned those principles. They installed a network of electronic roadside spies whose robotic sensors triggered a series of bureaucratic demands, which completely disregard the age old 'course of British justice'.
Once your car has been photographed by a roadside speed camera, you lose your right to remain silent. You are told that it is an offence if you fail to incriminate either yourself or someone else. The age-old presumption of innocence is the first victim of this Blairite impatience. The police no longer have to prove their case. You are forced to incriminate someone, or else face a penalty greater than the driving offence merited.
The independence of the police is compromised because, as part of a local partnership they are given the money raised in fines to provide more of these roadside revenue grabbers. This gives them an immediate motive to catch as many people as possible. This conflict of interest perverts an important principle of British justice.
In my view it is therefore nonsense to describe the action of taking someone else's points as perverting the course of justice.
It may be undesirable, but the course of justice has already been perverted by the diktats of the previous government. All you are doing in taking someone else's points is to evade the demands of the state bureaucracy.
Now, I am not saying that such an evasion doesn't deserve punishment. I certainly believe it does and I would like to stop people speeding. However, the penalty for evading the greed of the bureaucrats should be proportionate. A fair response to such evasion would be for both parties to the deception to face double the penalty that they were trying to evade. In this case Huhne and his wife might have been disqualified for double the usual period. I am sure that this would deter wrongdoers but proportionality, remember, is one of the principles of British justice. If we imprison people for telling a white lie on a bureaucrat's form what do we do to the real perverters of justice? What happens to gangsters caught intimidating witnesses or bribing police officers? Unfortunately, as we see all too often, such people probably get off scot-free.
Similarly, and I remember many such cases from my days at the local CAB, how do we protect people who live in daily fear of domestic violence or anti-social behaviour?
Perversely it seems that our courts consider it a worse offence to mislead a bureaucrat than to terrorise a partner or a vulnerable member of your community.
Perpetrators of neighbourhood terror roam free while Huhne and his wife, Vicky Pryce, are in prison.
It's time to stop the nonsense of imprisoning those who swap points and start locking up those who are violent.
British justice was once something of which we could be proud.
It is ironic that Mr Blair's wish to cut the speed of drivers was introduced in such a dash that it completely ignored the centuries-old wisdom of British law.
More haste, less speed? I think not.