Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Killing the Innocent

Unfortunately, another innocent life has been snuffed out in the “war against terror”. I am of course speaking of the killing of the Brazilian by police recently in London. Brazilians are protesting (as you would expect) but many British are also concerned and calling for a review and an investigation. On my part, I was dismayed (but not surprised) to read (in the ST I think) that if it had happened here, we would have kept quiet… why is it so many of us look the other way when something nasty happens to “somebody else”. This society and culture is sometimes so sad…

Anyway, my feelings on the entire issue were so well summed by one John Gardner that I just had to put his views up. I fully support what he has to say and simply hope that the review and investigation will lead to improvements in policing in general so that all police forces the world over may learn from this tragedy…

John says; Like many of my fellow-Londoners I am less alarmed by suicide bombers than I am by the police's Mossad-style execution of a 'suspect' (who turned out to be a completely innocent passer-by) on Friday 22 July. This is not because we are at greater risk of death at the hands of the police than at the hands of the bombers. Rather, it is because, all else being equal, it is worse to be killed by one's friends than by one's enemies, and worse to be killed by people in authority than by people not in authority.Here are some other important things to remember in thinking about the police actions of 22 July: (I believe he is talking about British law here…)
(1) There is no general legal duty to assist the police or to obey police instructions.
(2) There are special police powers to arrest and search. But there is no special police licence to injure or kill. If they injure or kill, the police need to rely on the same law as the rest of us.
(3) The law allows those who use force in prevention of crime to use only necessary and proportionate force. Jack Straw (foreign minister) and Sir Ian Blair (police chief) say that officers are under great pressure. But this is no excuse. In law, as in morality, being under extra pressure gives us no extra latitude for error in judging how much force is proportionate or necessary.
(4) Arguably, the police should be held to higher standards of calm under pressure than the rest of us. Certainly not lower!
(5) The necessity and proportionality of the police use of force is to be judged on the facts as they believed them to be. This does create latitude for factual error. In my view it creates too much latitude. The test should be reasonable belief. The police may be prejudiced like the rest of us, and may treat the fact that someone is dark-skinned as one reason to believe that he is a suicide bomber. But in court this reason should not count.(6) It is no defence in law that the killing was authorised by a superior officer. A superior officer who authorises an unlawful killing is an accomplice.
(7) The fact that those involved were police officers is irrelevant to the question of whether to prosecute them. It is a basic requirement of the Rule of Law that, when suspected of crimes, officials are subject to the same policies and procedures as the rest of us.
(8) Some people say: Blame the terrorists, not the police. But blame is not a zero-sum game. The fact that one is responding to faulty actions doesn't mean one is incapable of being at fault oneself. We may blame Tony Blair for helping to create the conditions in which bombing appeals to people, without subtracting any blame from the bombers. We may also blame the bombers for creating the conditions in which the police act under pressure, without subtracting blame from the police if they overreact. Everyone is responsible for their own faulty actions, never mind the contribution of others. This is the moral position as well as the position in criminal law.

(By the way, the fact that John is the Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford, and occasional Visiting Professor at Yale Law School, in no way influenced my thinking on the matter…ha ha ha.)


At 6:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for the useful information, it came in very handy to be able to use these facts in my assignment. It is also very interesting to know there are such consise laws on the use of force in such siturations


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