Monday, 1 December 2008

Government spin and bad logic on the arrest of Damian Green

Ministers have been busy saying that last week's raid does not indicate a police state, because it would be a police state if ministers directed investigations, and that did not happen. It is true that we would be in big trouble if ministers directed investigations, and it may be true that there was no ministerial involvement in this case. But it does not follow that the UK is at no risk of becoming a police state. The official line is an attempt to slip bad logic past us, in the form of denying the antecedent. There are other ways in which we could slide into a police state.

One way, directly relevant to this case, is to allow the police wide discretion which can all too easily be abused so that police officers can act against things which they happen not to like. The "misconduct in a public office" offences are like that. So is section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which has been used to punish people selling shirts which said "Bollocks to Blair" and to threaten with prosecution people holding up placards saying "Scientology is a Cult" outside the City of London headquarters of the Scientologists. The police can take control and act improperly when they are too little controlled by the law, as well as when they are too much controlled by ministers.

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