This morning the government will reveal its latest law and order crackdown. The target this time is what the Guardian calls ‘top criminals’. The solution is seemingly an extension of existing New Labour policy towards crime, to remove the right to a fair trial as it’s been defined for centuries. So-called ‘super-ASBOs’ will limit the individuals a person can see, where they can go and even whether they can own a mobile phone; all without the need for a case that proves their guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”.
I can’t admit to having been overly offended by ASBOs when they were first introduced. I could see the need to tackle anti-social behaviour in our communities, even if I’d have preferred the main thrust of policy to be one of education and opportunity for all. Limits to liberty didn’t seem to matter so much when it was a question of whether a gaggle of troubled teens could loiter where they chose. Yet with this expanded version and the growth of its non-super equivalent, it’s beginning to hit me how dangerous both these policies are. Never mind the fact that the original ASBOs seem to have failed, we should not tolerate this erosion of our liberty. It’s just too dangerous. Today sees the widening of a policy framework that indisputably points us in the direction of authoritarianism. Unless we have the evidence to charge people in a criminal court, we do not have the right to take their liberty from them in this way. The quotes on Channel 4 News from junior Home Office minister, Vernon Coaker, were genuinely frightening.
You could argue that I was blind not to see all this before and if I’m honest, I think you’d be right if you did.