Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Decline of Order, Justice and Liberty in England

A Brief History of Crime: The Decline of Order, Justice and Liberty in England
Peter Hitchens Atlantic Books 2003 ISBN 1 84354 148 3 hbk pp. 315

Against a background of a rumoured election, an epidemic of violent crime and a crisis in the prison system one does not have to look for reasons to think about the state of law and order in the UK. Add to this the fear that Christians will soon find that some of their beliefs are outlawed. Those that are concerned, as all ought to be, that the civil powers should be 'a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil' and that 'we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty' will share a concern similar to the author of this book. It is written 'to show that much of the public debate on crime and punishment in modern England is based on mistaken beliefs, misunderstood figures and cheap slogans – especially on the death penalty, imprisonment, drugs, policing and the right to bear arms.' Hitchens shows a keen insight into these failures describing the unchecked slide into disorder: 'England is rapidly becoming a place where the good are afraid of the bad and the bad are not afraid of anything'. 'A society that clearly and decisively punishes wicked actions will have no need to document, restrict or spy on the millions who do not do such actions...the more generously and considerately we create safeguards for transgressors, the fewer freedoms will remain for those who behave themselves'.

Crime is seen by those in power as an endemic social and economic disease 'produced by poverty, bad housing, poor schools and all the other ills that socialism claims to be able to cure'. Their response is only therefore to try and contain it. The bureaucratic repression that is mobilised to deal with this has more restrictive effect upon the law-abiding than the criminal. The danger of this solution is that it will ultimately 'create a social and legal system so stifling and intrusive as to be uncomfortably close to dictatorship'. The measures implemented under Blair pose 'the gravest threat to English liberty since the 17th century'.

Hitchens traces the dramatic post-war descent of Britain, in terms of law and order. He blames a political establishment that has systematically dismantled all the supports of effective punishment of crime. Policing has abandoned any attempt at prevention by removing the patrolling officer. 'The machinery and structure of the English police have been designed since 1966 to react to crime instead of prevent it before it happens'. The policy of responding to incidents after they have happened 'has given evildoers a new feeling of freedom from fear and so made streets less pleasant and less safe'. Police officers are now the servants of political correctness instead of the ordinary citizen. Hitchens supports capital punishment by recalling the days when murder, a 'crime of unique horror', was punishable by a unique punishment, society's most civilised response to murder. The book concludes with a postscript which reviews the case of the elderly street preacher Harry Hammond who was assaulted, arrested and then convicted and fined for holding a simple placard of protest. We do not necessarily commend every way in which the author expresses his case but it is a sober and well-researched treatment of the subject. The book concludes: 'One major purpose of this book is to warn that there is now a real threat to liberty, thought and speech in this country, a threat which cannot be lightly dismissed by any observant or alert citizen'.

A paperback version has been issued under the title 'The Abolition of Liberty'.