Friday, 24 April 2015

The same old story

I am old enough to remember the Guinness affair.  I recall having quite a falling out with a work colleague when I derided the reduction of Ernest Saunders' sentence because he claimed he had pre-senile dementia.  The evidence was far from conclusive about that diagnosis - a precursor of Alzheimers - and sure enough he subsequently made a full recovery from the incurable condition.   See  It was not the last time I was to read about someone accused of serious offences falling desperately and seemingly incurably ill, only to make a later miraculous recovery. Check out Allan Maguire. 

You will not be surprised then that I am deeply skeptical about the fortuitous timing of Greville Janner's dementia.  He was attending and claiming expenses at the House of Lords and had just the week before signed a letter to the effect he wanted to continue in their Lordship's House.

The really scandalous part though is the way the  decision  was made not to prosecute a well founded case  as 'not in the  public interest', and against advice. There had been at least two previous opportunities that had been passed up or botched.  That phrase 'not in the public interest'  will be familiar to those who followed local  child abuse  news.  It was that  clause that enabled our then Attorney General to drop a number of cases.

It is a wonderfully convenient  term for those in power.  It can only of course be deployed by those in power as, in general, only they can know what the public interest impacts of a prosecution might be.  What is difficult for me is there seems to be no testable definition of criteraion for what constitutes public interest.  A legal dictionary  gives

Public Interest

Anything affecting the rights, health, or finances of the public at large.
Public interest is a common concern among citizens in the management and affairs of local, state, and national government. It does not mean mere curiosity but is a broad term that refers to the body politic and the public weal. A public utility is regulated in the public interest because private individuals rely on such a company for vital services.

There was another instance  this week in the USA that raised several doubts in my mind.  David Petraeus former General commanding forces in Iraq and Afghanistan shared highly sensitive intelligence information with his mistress and biographer.   He had initially denied that accusation.  He was sentenced this week to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.  Effectively a slap on the wrist.  Contrast that with the treatment of Chelsea Manning, whose was sentenced to 35 year's imprisonment.  

It is the same old story at almost every turn - those in positions of power and with  powerful connections  are treated far more leniently than the ordinary citizen.  It is the wrong way round.  Those who are well paid and regarded because of their 'position of responsibility' should be expected to be an example and to hold even higher ethical and moral stance than the ordinary public.  The law should if anything be more stringent with those that breach that trust with the public.  The exact opposite of what all too often appears to be the case.

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