Speed Cameras and Liberty

I’m not against using technology to catch criminals and provide evidence that will result in their conviction.

My problem with UK speed cameras is that they do this by trampling over the 3 hard-fought-for legal pillars of our legal justice system (which is immoral):

1. Presumption of innocence. We are expected to prove we were not driving to prevent prosecution, whereas it is normal for the police to provide evidence in other cases.

2. Right not to incriminate ourselves. The Notice of intended Prosecution bullies citizens in giving information, which would lead directly to the prosecution of themselves or their loved ones.

3. Right to remain silent. Remaining silent results in an inconvenient and expensive court summons.

The problem with Gatsos is that they rely on citizens providing the last and vital piece of evidence to make a prosecution. I understand that the European Court has ruled that this does not contravene our rights not to incriminate ourselves as it extracts only one piece of evidence.  Other evidence (the photograph of the car) is also required. However, the vital evidence is the identification of the actual driver at the time and this is forced from us by threats of an inconvenient, intimidating and expensive court summons. It also creates a huge dilemma if we can’t quite remember who was at the wheel at the time. Do we go to court (expensive, inconvenient, intimidating) or risk perverting the course of justice (possibly resulting in a prison sentence)?  An unpleasant dilemma for many law abiding citizens and one to which we should not be subjected.

I also note that many European countries do not have the presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. This legislation may be very European but it is definitely un-British.

In any case all this can be avoided by turning the camera around and getting a photograph of the driver. Such technology exists as they use it very effectively in Japan. That way the police have all the evidence they need. There would be no need to bully citizens into providing vital evidence and it would maintain the integrity of the three pillars of the British legal justice system.


Drugs and Liberty

Drugs are undoubtedly bad for our health and we could even make a case that recreational drug use is immoral. However this should have no bearing on whether drugs should be illegal or legal. It is clear there is no chance of the perfect solution where drugs can be completely eradicated from society. We must therefore decide what is the harm of having drugs illegal and compare that with the harm of having drugs legalised – and then choose the least bad option.

The main harm of making drugs illegal is that it creates enormous profits for some of the world’s most violent and unpleasant people, who murder, extort, bully and corrupt their way to power.  i.e. organised criminal gangs. It also supports corrupt regimes in some of the worlds nastiest countries and finances terrorism.

America’s attempt, in 1920-33, to prohibit the sale of alcohol (sensibly not copied in any other big country) inflated alcohol prices, promoted bootleg suppliers, encouraged the spread of guns and crime, increased hard-liquor drinking and corrupted a quarter of the federal enforcement agents, all within a decade. The drugs war has achieved all these things but, since the business is global, it has done so on an international scale.

Add to this the levels of crime conducted by users and addicts to pay the inflated prices, the high cost of law enforcement (police, customs, courts and prisons), the healthcare costs associated with poor quality and doctored products and the criminalisation of a nation’s youth and we have a very high cost to society for making drugs illegal.

Legalisation gives us the ability to easily reach out to users and addicts to educate them away from drug use.  We can also assure the quality of the product, making them safer and reducing the costs of treatment.  Tax revenue from the sale of drugs can be fed back into education programmes explaining the risks of drug taking.  Finally the poor producers in developing countries could get the financial benefits from a legitimate cash crop rather than the criminals in the current distribution chain.  In my opinion the biggest benefit would be taking an enormous source of revenue away from these nasty people in organised crime.

These benefits to legalisation must be balanced with a resulting lower social stigma from drug taking (if that was possible) and lower prices (to ensure nobody bought from illicit channels) possibly creating more users. But bear in mind that drugs are already very available in our society.  In any case most drugs users grow out of their habit if left alone.  Peter Cohen, of the Centre for Drug Research at the University of Amsterdam, followed a sample of cocaine users whom he describes as typical. After ten years, 60% had become completely abstinent and 40% remained occasional users. “Most drug users ultimately stop,” he says. “Drugs no longer fit their lifestyle. They get jobs, they have to get up early, they stop going to the disco, they have kids.”

So what is the least bad option – illegal or legal?  Governments already allow their citizens the freedom to do many potentially self-destructive things: mountaineering; bungee-jumping; cave diving; motor biking; alcohol and cigarette consumption; gambling and (famously) horse riding.  Some of these are far more dangerous than drug taking.

Perhaps John Stuart Mill was right. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.  Trade in drugs may be bad for our health, immoral and irresponsible, but perhaps it should no longer be illegal.