Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Other

I had a minor revelation about the changes to the right to silence today. I think it's also something that reflects more generally on the entire populations attitude to the criminal laws, and is why politicians get away with the stuff they do.

But let's start at the beginning.

As I have said before, our law and order legislation is a mess. It is a piecemeal, arbitrary, poorly thought out and implemented system. That is no surprise, given the hot-button topic that the criminal law is in the media.

It's also true that most people don't really care about the rights of people who are before the criminal justice system. Why? We'll come back to that.

Earlier today I was listening to the podcast of Friday's PM, a transcript of which you can find here.

It was an interesting story about the right to silence changes, and includes a brief interview with Federal member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, herself a former lawyer. She had this to say:
There's a few problems with that. First of all, thanks to the amendment meaning that the warning has to be given in front of a lawyer (read here if you don't follow that) the indigent are unlikely to be caught by changes. The second paragraph is, in light of this, non-sensical. I suspect that Ms Rowland has simply not read the laws as they were actually passed, relying rather on what was originally proposed.

Ms Rowland also says that she is seeking advice on whether the Federal Government might be able to override the laws. I'm no constitutional expert on whether that is possible, but regardless I think it is unlikely that any such legislation could be passed.

Anyway, her comments got me thinking about the community's attitude to these changes. I've been blogging and tweeting about this, as well as appearing on Something Wonky and PETW (that episode not released yet). Me aside however, there has been surprisingly little reaction other than one day of headlines and the usual levity on twitter.

The attitude, for the most part, is best summed by this tweet from Brad Burden, O'Farrell's media guy:
The obvious inference he wants you to draw? This is a law that affects only the real bad guys.

A similar attitude was on display during the Legislative Council debate. This from John Ajaka:
What nonsense. For the reasons I have explained previously, no sophisticated or organised criminal will ever be subject to any such warning. They will have lawyers who will shield them from that.

As for the suggestion that these changes have anything to do with the recent "community, police and government concern" - the only issue has been the alleged spike in shootings, and the concern on that front was victims and their families not speaking. It was nothing to do with silence from the accused persons.

More important, though, is this. The government is using the criminal gangs information to emphasize everyone's usual assumption about law and order policies - they only affect "other people".

On one level, that's true. I don't know what your chances are statistically of being interviewed by police, but it must be a pretty small percentage.

The problem, however, is that people who are charged with offences are often not guilty of them. Moreover, just being a law-abiding person does not insulate you from, one day, being arrested and charged with something.

The public take a very black-and-white attitude to these matters. It goes to the question "If you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of?"

There is a fundamental attitude, I believe, that these changes will only affect people who have done something wrong. Even more fundamentally, it will affect "other people".

And who really cares about them?

1 comment:

  1. Yours is the best commentary that I've seen on this. Once you start chipping away at freedoms, it can be very hard to stop...