MORE RESTRICTIONS ON LIBERTY

 

September 1996

 

Further to what I was saying two months ago about the Criminal Justice Act, a couple of recent child murders have provoked demands that something should be done to prevent this. Remember the old-fashioned principle that a person was innocent until proved guilty. There was also the idea that they could only be punished for what they had done, even if they were then released to do it again. The rather dangerous modern idea is that people should be penalised for what it is believed they might do in the future. A headline in the Mail on Sunday advises `These perverts should be jailed BEFORE they harm our children'.

 

It is true that the two cases being discussed both concern murderers who had been previously convicted for fairly serious offences against children, but falling short of murder. But it is also true that both the murdered children were inadequately protected by adult company at the time. Letting a child sleep in a tent at the bottom of the garden is only totally safe if you firmly believe that everyone will refrain from invading the garden under cover of night. The Mail article says that we must all urgently ask `How do we minimise the risk of it ever happening again?' Well, if you must make draconian laws to eliminate any uncertainty in life, you could start with laws about kiddies being allowed to sleep in tents in gardens, and other laws about kiddies being allowed to wander the streets without an adult holding their hand.

 

But the author of the article has other measures in mind. Persons who are known, or believed, to have dangerous tendencies should be deprived of their liberty, so that they could never give expression to the dangerous tendencies which they are believed to have. `Paedophiles are social outcasts, and the law must treat them as such. Once there is evidence to persuade a court that an individual has paedophile tendencies, he should be convicted of the offence of being a paedophile, without proof that on a particular day he assaulted a child. ... If an unhealthy and obsessive interest in children persists ... the court should then be empowered to order his detention for as long as is necessary.'

 

If you are determined to minimise risks, you have to curtail somebody's liberty. Why that of the potential assailants - why not that of the children? Actually the idea of reducing the riskiness of life by restricting the freedom of children and teenagers is being applied in places in America and is threatened here. You've heard about the plans for a curfew on teenagers?

 

There is a considerable imbalance between the desire to protect people from other individuals, or from their own failure to protect themselves, regardless of the curtailment of liberty involved, and the usual massive disregard of the risks arising from people being subordinated to the tender mercies of doctors and other authorised agents of the collective.

 

A great fuss is being made because two children have died from being left in positions where they were exposed to the attentions of people who probably were, to some extent, mental cases. But there are constant deaths of mental patients who are `sectioned' (i.e incarcerated against their will). Doctors feel free to inject large doses of a risky sedative which, if it does not kill them, is a speedy and expeditious way of making them extremely calm and untroublesome.