Have our courts set out to undermine any residual respect for the law?
Manifestly unjust verdicts are guaranteed to achieve this end, and these are increasingly the type of verdicts our judges pass.
Two exhibits, if I may, Your Honour.
EXHIBIT A. The other day I watched a traffic policeman being interviewed about hogging the middle lane on a three-lane motorway. People have been known to incur fines of up to £1000 and get five points off their licence for this heinous offence.
The interviewer observed, and the cop conceded, that our roads are relatively safe. Actually, they’re the safest in Europe. For example, we have less than half the number of road fatalities than France, which has roughly the same population but 10 times the number of road miles per car.
The two then also agreed that it would be nice if we had no accidents in general and fatal ones in particular. Neither mentioned that it would be as nice as eliminating disease, and just as unattainable: millions of fallible people driving at high speeds are bound to cause the odd collision.
However, the underlying assumption was that making everybody drive in the slow lane would make that ideal a reality, though no supporting evidence was proffered. It went without saying.
Now the slow left lane on a British motorway normally moves at about 10 miles under the speed limit. Most people drive at 10 miles over, and the police usually let them get away with it.
If the motorway is empty, driving on the left indeed makes sense. But since our motorways are usually busy, a law-abiding motorist travelling at a normal speed would constantly have to weave in and out of traffic. How this would improve road safety escapes me.
But let’s say a conscientious driver sticks to the assigned lane and finds himself going at 55 mph in a 70 mph zone. A red-blooded motorist will then move into the middle lane to overtake. What if he sees no gap on the left into which he could then move back? For the next couple of miles he’ll drive in the middle lane, thereby breaking the law.
“How do you tell hogging from a long overtake?” asked the interviewer. The policeman smiled a gnostic smile suggesting that he possessed secret knowledge inaccessible to hoi-polloi.
“That’s subjective,” he said. In other words, it’s left to the discretion of the police to determine whether or not the law was violated.
However, ‘subjective’ is an inaccurate word. ‘Arbitrary’ would be closer to the mark. ‘Tyrannical’ is another possibility, as would be ‘cynical’ if the law had been introduced strictly as a money spinner.
I’m not a great admirer of speeding laws, but at least a radar provides an objective criterion. Obligatory wearing of seat belts isn’t my favourite law either, but there’s nothing arbitrary there: the belt is on or it’s off. ‘Subjective’ laws aren’t laws at all – they are tools of tyranny.
EXHIBIT 2. Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne used to be one of the best footballers in England. However, even his own mother would admit he has never been one of the brightest men in England. The words ‘daft’ and ‘brush’ spring to mind when describing Gazza’s mind – even before he became an alcoholic.
Nor would he have a profitable career in stand-up comedy, as the joke he cracked the other day proves. Gazza was unhappy with the dim lighting in the hall where he was addressing an audience. He vented that feeling by putting on his usual madcap smile and saying to a black security guard: “Can you smile so I can see you?”
Any normal, which is to say pre-PC, person would have said something equally unfunny in reply, like “I can see you all right, and what I see is a drunk moron”.
But the security guard is a modern, as opposed to normal, man. The next day he complained to the police, claiming he was so severely traumatised that he had cried through the night.
And – are you ready for this? – the Crown Prosecution Service charged Gascoigne with a hate crime. The case was concluded yesterday, and Gazza was made to pay the traumatised guard £1000 in compensation. He was also fined £1000 and charged another £800 in court costs.
District Judge Graham Wilkinson accepted that Gazza’s “off-the-cuff” remark didn’t make him a racist. However, “As a society it is important that we challenge racially aggravated behaviour in all its forms. A message needs to be sent that in the 21st century society that we live in, such action, such words will not be tolerated.”
Your Honour, what’s intolerable is for such sanctimonious idiocy to acquire tyrannical powers. A perpetually drunk ex-footballer with an IQ below room temperature (Celsius) cracked a joke, as silly as it was innocent. There wasn’t a trace of malice there, just the sort of banter Gazza grew up with, at a time when no one found such humour offensive, never mind criminal.
Can we please go back to another century? Back to sanity? For we’re coming precious close to invalidating justice, something that makes Britain British.