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Aug 192016
 

Of course it doesn’t. Anyone who claims so needs their brain rebooted.

This topic came up on an online discussion where there were many comments indicating a poorly conceived belief that a “not guilty” verdict from a court means “innocent”.

In a criminal case the court has to decide whether there is enough evidence to determine if the accused can be found guilty in the opinion of the court. The legal system very wisely knows that whilst it has the job of determining truth (as part of dispensing justice), it cannot do that so restricts itself to determining whether there is sufficient evidence to find someone guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

That means those who get a “not guilty” verdict comprise two groups – those who are innocent, and those who are guilty, but there is sufficient doubt over their guilt that they cannot be found guilty. Any policeman (or woman) will tell you that those found “not guilty” include plenty of people who really are guilty, but the evidence isn’t sufficient.

We have a legal system where there is a presumption of innocence – the old saying is that it is better that 99 guilty criminals go free than 1 innocent person be convicted. The legal system assumes that mistakes will be made (quite rightly – the decisions are made by people), and weighs the system heavily in favour of ensuring that mistakes result in people going free when they are guilty.

It does this by asking the jury to decide if the accused is guilty; not whether they are innocent. And they must have no reasonable doubts over the guilt of the accused. In a perfect situation a simple question has a black or white answer – the accused is guilty or innocent; in the real world we all know there are grey areas – there is plenty of evidence showing that the accused killed the victim, but she has a good alibi.

Where a case becomes grey and there is sufficient doubt, the verdict should be “not guilty” even if the accused was probably guilty.

The Edge

Aug 172010
 

The government have announced that they plan to ban clamping cars who park illegally in the new year. The excuse is that “rogue” clampers are endemic to the industry and despite a number of attempts at cleaning up the industry, they survive. Of course anyone who has been clamped is celebrating.

But is it really a good thing?

We have heard on the news from clampers and victims of clamping, but we have not heard from anyone who employs clampers to protect their property. And it is not always evil people who see a money-making opportunity. Sometimes there are good reasons to protect against illegal parking.

Many people perhaps do not realise just how aggravating and potentially dangerous illegal parking can be. Taking an extreme at the low end where clamping currently is not employed (but should be!), my flat is in a block which has a small narrow courtyard behind the building which is open to the road.

There are admittedly no notices up to indicate that parking is illegal, but you would have to be really dumb not to realise that it is private property. Parking there not only means that the council frequently finds it difficult to collect the rubbish, but the area is supposed to be kept clear as it is a fire exit and access for fire engines in the event of a fire. People parking there put the resident’s lives at risk.

Do they care ? Don’t make me laugh. On almost every day, there will be two or three cars parked there.

Feb 252010
 

Today we’ve had the news that the UK’s prosecution service has issued guidelines on where people will be prosecuted in cases of assisted suicide. Basically people won’t be if they assist someone provided they stick to certain conditions. Fair enough. But there’s a bit of a problem here – we’re in danger of allowing some groups of people who wish their life to end to be allowed their wish and others not to.

Part of the problem is the use of the phrase euthanasia which is mistakenly believed to imply “putting down” those people who are in dire straits with or without their consent. In particular people are worried that euthanasia opens the door to killing those who are inconveniently lingering. Such killings have occurred throughout history and are probably occurring today.

Assisted suicide is not euthanasia – the key is the word suicide – it is an active decision by someone to end their life. Ordinary suicide is of course legal (at least now), but assisting someone’s suicide remains illegal. So anyone in extremis who needs help in ending their life needs to find someone who is prepared to undertake the risk of prosecution to help out.

There are two problems with this. Firstly it limits the availability of assisted suicide to those who do have a friend or lover prepared to take the risk. Not everyone has such a close relationship with someone else, so we are essentially saying that such people have no way out of an intolerable situation – is that fair ?

Secondly, as assisted suicide remains illegal, it is something that is carried out stealthily in private with no oversight. It is easy to see that there are any number of possible abuses here – murder could in some circumstances be disguised as assisted suicide. And we certainly do not want to make murder any easier to get away with.

What we need is to legalise assisted suicide and require some form of procedure to make it more open and subject to oversight. In particular we need to ensure that other avenues are explored – we need to ensure that people do not opt for assisted suicide when other options are available.

Today’s announcement was essentially the easy way out – it doesn’t give those in favour of assisted suicide what they want and neither are those opposed happy about it. Whilst legalising assisted suicide will also not make those opposed happy, they need to understand that keeping it illegal won’t stop it.

Nov 012009
 

It is now clear that the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is in danger of disintegration as additional members seem to be considering (or have) resigned in protest at the sacking of Professor Nutt and the seemingly arbitrary decisions made by the Government on the use of recreational drug use.  There has long been a suspicion that the Government’s (all UK governments and not just the most recent one!) decisions on which drugs should be legal and which ones illegal, is based more on which ones are acceptable to the establishment and which ones are not.

The UK’s system of drugs laws is based around three classes of drugs (A, B, and C) with a decreasing scale of punishments for misuse from the harshest for the use of the most harmful drugs (class A) to the lightest punishment for the least harmful (class C). Or rather it should be.

Both the classification of Ecstasy (as class A) and the re-classification of cannabis (from C to B) were made by ignoring the scientific advice and paying more attention to media hysteria. Both are classified higher than the risk of taking them justifies. What other drugs have been classified inappropriately?

If the government wants to make arbitrary decisions on drugs classifications, they need to get honest and get rid of the whole classification system. And they need to stop taking advice from scientists – taking advice and then ignoring it wastes a great deal of time on those who formulate the advice, and if the advice is ignored there is no point in getting it.

Alternatively, the government needs to accept the advice of the experts and get the politicians out of the loop. Even to go so far as to include legal drugs into the classification system. For instance why are not alcohol and tobacco not classified appropriately ? They could be classified according to their harm with a special note that they are legal for practical reasons.

Over the weekend, the criticisms of Professor Nutt can be split into two.

The first criticism is that he shouldn’t have said what he said as a government advisor. Well I’m sure Professor Nutt knows this, knew he would be sacked for saying what he said, and felt that he had to say it anyway. He has certainly managed to ignite a debate on the subject.

The second criticism is that he is wrong that drugs such as cannabis are less harmful than the drugs they are classified with. First of all Professor Nutt was not saying that cannabis is harmless; he was saying that it’s harm does not justify it being classified as class B (it should be C instead). Secondly those criticising him seem to think that their personal (bad) experience with cannabis invalidates the scientific evidence.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific evidence (on drug use) is about moving beyond personal experience both good and bad, and getting to the truth on the level of risk. There are many who would claim that cannabis is harmless because it hasn’t caused them any harm (man), and some who would claim it is very harmful because it has harmed them. Both are wrong – cannabis is harmful, but the amount of harm considering the number of users is very low.

As an analogy, the use of aspirin can cause stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding, and tinnitus. Rather extreme for curing a little headache! Perhaps aspirin should be banned ? Of course not – the benefit far outweighs the risk.

In an ideal world, the current fuss over Professor Nutt’s lecture and drugs policy will result in seeing some sanity in drug prohibition – perhaps even we would see the legalisation of drugs (prohibition probably causes far more harm to society as a whole than the harm resulting from drug use). However it is more likely that we will see more gross stupidity.

Jun 252009
 

One of my pet hates is the inappropriate use of the word paedophile. If you look up the proper definition of the word it is someone who is sexually interested in children specifically prepubescent children. That means children who have not been through puberty.

Is that the same as someone who is sexually interested in post-puberty “children” ? No it is not. Yet people assume that anyone who has sex with someone under the age of consent is a paedophile. However wrong it is to have sex with someone under the age of consent, it is a different order of magnitude with a child under the age of puberty.

Even more ridiculously, people have even used paedophile to refer to anyone who expresses an interest in anyone a great deal younger than themselves. The “victims” of such “paedophiles” are well over the age of consent.

By misusing the word paedophile, we trivialise the ofense. Sex with an “adult” under the age of consent may be bad, but it is ridiculous to compare it to abusing a 2 year old.

Dec 132006
 

There is currently what appears to be a serial killer on the loose (hopefully that is out of date before I finish writing this) in the Ipswich area targeting prostitutes. Why prostitutes ? Who knows what goes through the mind of a deranged killer, but one possibility is that prostitutes are relatively easy targets.

Frankly the current laws on prostitution in the UK are creating this situation. Whilst prostitution is not in itself illegal (something that many do not realise), the UK does seem to go out of the way to make prostitution as dangerous as possible. Because brothels are illegal, prostitutes are driven onto the streets (except of course for illegal brothels where women or men are kept as sex slaves); because soliciting for trade is illegal prostitutes have to keep their activities relatively discreet making some measure of safety by formalising things more difficult.

The moral minority who want to get rid of prostitution should realise that the attempt to get rid of prostitution by legal sanction is a complete failure. Whilst there are still women desperate enough to do almost anything to get money … frequently to feed a drug habit, prostitution will survive no matter how dangerous it becomes. And using the law to make a serial killer’s job easier is less moral than prostitution itself.

Ideally brothels should be legalised and sited in locations of existing late night activity … where nightclubs are located. Prostitutes should be encouraged to form worker’s co-operatives to run these brothels and the brothels should be inspected regularly. Not only would this make it far more difficult for a serial killer to prey on prostitutes, but would allow additional services for prostitutes … drug rehabilitation publicity and help for example. Legal brothels would also make it far easier to crack down on the kind of places that keep sex slaves … itself something that is well worth making a few sacrifices to stop.

I would far rather live next door to a brothel than make women work the streets and allow sex slavery to continue, and no I don’t visit prostitutes.

At the very least it is time for a brothel in Ipswich whilst this serial killer is still free … asking prostitutes to stop working for a while is not practical unless we are going to take care of their addiction to drugs at the same time!

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