Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tools of the State?

Clearly the legal system is a part of the state apparatus, if only in terms of its enforcement of the laws introduced by the government of the day. However the political role of the police and judiciary is seen to be minimal and there is a sense that the legal arm of the state is independent of the government but answerable to parliament. Such a principle seems enshrined by the fact that the cash for honours allegations have been vigorously pursued by the police, even to the extent of questioning the Prime Minister. However, largely there seems to be a mistrust of any decision that does not produce an anti-government conclusion and the question is whether this is a positive or a negative.

The Blair government appears to have substantially undermined trust in what is referred to as due process. The Hutton Inquiry, for example, was independent but with a narrow framework of reference: studying the extent to which the blame for the suicide of Dr David Kelly could be attributed to either the BBC or the press office and spin doctors of 10 Downing Street. But the outcome which seemed to exonerate Blair and Campbell while condemning the BBC's Today Programme was suggested by some to be a whitewash. The Butler Inquiry into the use of intelligence in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq compounded the view that the judiciary was if not in the pockets of government was unwilling to bring down the party with an electoral mandate. Therefore it seems that recent independent inquiries, all of which seemed to favour the government, have bred an atmosphere of deep mistrust of officialdom.

Thus it seems of little surprise that the findings of an investigation into whether the UK government colluded in the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects, conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers , which found no evidence of collusion has been openly questioned. This questioning begins with the premise that there is something amiss with the investigation, predicated on contrary findings released by the Council of Europe. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty accused ACPO of a weak investigation and went as far as to comment "When politicians spin it is disappointing. When police engage in the same activity, it is rather more dangerous".

Cynicism and open questioning is a good thing, it protects the citizens from the state. The problem here is that the level of mistrust and acceptance that police and government would collude to produce the 'right result' undermines the principles of democracy. While it is impossible to say what is right or wrong in this case the problem is that Blair has overseen the processes that have bred this mistrust. By having independent inquiries with narrow remits that can only produce one conclusion, now everything is seen as spin. Unless the government, whatever colour it may be in the next few years, can quickly prove itself to be honest and working with the people trust will further diminish. Where will that leave us?

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