What would be your reaction if someone told you that the killing of an NHS nurse is punished more severely than that of her colleague working in private medicine?
Outrage? Definitely. Disbelief? Possibly. Alas, that’s so outrageous precisely because it’s true. And the so-called ‘Harper’s Law’, which makes it true, is a travesty of justice.
PC Andrew Harper was killed responding to a burglary two years ago. His three murderers smirked in the dock as they received derisory sentences as low as 13 years, out in less than nine.
Mrs Harper was understandably aggrieved, prompting Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to commiserate that she felt a “burning sense of injustice”. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to our dedicated emergency workers,” he added. “I want them to know we’ve got their backs.”
It’s good to know that our justice secretary is au courant with American cop shows, where he must have picked up the expression he used. It’s even better to know he recognises that the sentences were shockingly unjust.
Any normal response to that debauchment of justice would be instructing the CPO to demand, and the courts to pass, mandatory life-means-life sentences for murder – and not to plea bargain.
Yet instead HMG decreed a law effectively attaching a price tag to people’s lives. The lives of those employed in the service of the state are deemed more precious than the lives of, well, you and me.
That’s why any murderer of a policeman, prison officer, fireman, NHS medic or paramedic will indeed receive a mandatory life sentence. Yet a murderer of anyone else may well be punished more leniently because his crime is likely to be plea-bargained or otherwise downgraded to manslaughter.
The law prescribing a mandatory life sentence for murder already exists in Britain, which makes this new law either redundant or vile. It’s the former if it adds nothing to the law already on the books. It’s the latter if it implies that the courts will have more latitude in treating any other murder as manslaughter.
I hate to sound sententious, but Harper’s Law represents the government’s acknowledgement that our jurisprudence has been cut off from its moral roots and cast adrift. The moral roots in question are grounded in the founding concepts of Judaeo-Christian ethics, from which all criminal laws used to derive.
The essential concept of Christian egalitarianism is that all people have the same fundamental worth because they are all created in the image of God. And if every life is equally precious, then every murder is equally ghastly. The victim’s job shouldn’t make one jot of difference: the murder of an unemployed druggie must be punished as ruthlessly as that of a fireman or NHS surgeon.
Harper’s Law is yet another proof that the modern state is out to protect not so much its citizens as itself. This is another consequence of modernity, with its systematic destruction of every tenet that predates that great misnomer, the Enlightenment.
Having removed God as the object of worship, modern barbarians still couldn’t quash the innate human need to worship something, and that something had to be some secular deity. In effect, religion was replaced with idolatry, a dance around totem poles, a forest of them.
The most obvious head sitting on top of such a pole is one’s own. Man was encouraged to place self-interest above all those tired old virtues, or better still dispense with them altogether.
That led to a new political dispensation based on dubious assumptions. The touts of one-man-one-vote democracy insisted that the sum total of private interests expressed at the ballot box would add up to public virtue. Let the people govern themselves.
However, rhetoric aside, people can’t really govern themselves. Any attempt to let them try will produce nothing but entropy, a perpetual chaos and war of all against all.
Someone has to have a vested authority to govern on the people’s behalf – and to make sure their pursuit of self-interest doesn’t impinge too much on the self-interests of others. In conditions of universal suffrage, that someone can only be the central state.
But a state isn’t an inanimate body. It’s made up of individuals given to normal human instincts. Of these, self-perpetuation and self-service are perhaps the strongest.
Having diminished or even obliterated the traditional subsidiarity of power, based on such local bodies as parish, guild, village or township council, the state shifted their functions into its own domain. The state squeezed its bulk into the space vacated not only in the palace but also in the church.
Gradually, it became preoccupied with looking after its own Number 1, itself. I shan’t bore you with statistics, but it would be easy to show, figures in hand, that the modern state becomes more powerful all the time, while relinquishing its traditional responsibility of protecting each citizen. Its first impulse is to protect itself.
That’s why people like Dominic Raab and his government colleagues don’t realise how unjust an abomination like Harper’s Law is. They have their own concept of justice, one springing from that prime, exceedingly only, virtue of modernity: self-interest.
I have only one question, and I hope someone in HMG can answer it. Do I have to retrain as a paramedic for Mr Raab to ‘have my back’?