The Sovereignty of Parliament

The bombing of Syria at the weekend has raised the issue of the “Sovereignty of Parliament”. According to Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Clarke and many others, Theresa May should have consulted Parliament before joining the US and France in slapping Bashar al-Assad over the wrist for gassing his own people in Syria’s interminable and brutal civil war.

Some have professed to see a contradiction between the Brexit goal of restoring Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Prime Minister’s willingness to commit the UK military without parliamentary approval.

I have my doubts about the efficacy of a strategy of launching an air strike every time we are confronted with horrific scenes on the television. But that is not the subject of this post. It seems to me the important principle of the Sovereignty of Parliament is being misunderstood.

In the UK constitution, Parliament is the Legislature not the Executive. Parliamentary Sovereignty means that laws made in the UK Parliament may not be overruled by foreign courts, or by foreign parliaments. That is the principle that was breached by our membership of the EU, and that will be restored by Brexit.

It does not mean that the PM must consult Parliament before making every executive decision. There are many good reasons why that would not work, and in the case of military action, the PM is quite correct to say that the need for prompt action, and the need to take into account highly sensitive intelligence sources makes that impractical. (Parliamentary debates are of course open to the public and reported in Hansard).

There is no legal or constitutional requirement for a PM to seek the approval of Parliament before taking military action. There has been a recent convention of seeking such consent. In 2013 Tony Bliar persuaded Parliament to rubber-stamp the invasion of Iraq. In 2013 David Cameron failed to get approval for military action in Syria, and as a result abandoned that course of action.

The history of this convention is not good. Parliament is hostage to whatever version of the intelligence the Government chooses to make available. This is not the proper role of Parliament, and it certainly isn’t Parliamentary Sovereignty.

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Gender pay gap @again@

Not content to leave meaningless statistics about the supposed gender pay gap to the SJWs, the Government itself has now got in on the act, by requiring all companies with more than 250 employees to report on the difference in mean and median pay of their male and female employees. As the deadline for the reports passed today the PM herself has weighed in against this “burning injustice”.

To listen to how this is reported by the BBC and politicians of all the big parties you would think it was incontrovertible that the ‘pay gap’ supposedly revealed in these statistics was real, significant and demanding of urgent attention.

But the public comments in the national press give a different picture. Theresa May’s offering in the Daily Telegraph was almost universally condemned, sometimes in the most vituperative terms. A selection:

There is no gender pay gap.

Do you want to know why you lost so much support in the last general election. You’re doing it….

Is there no populist, virtue signalling bandwagon that May will not cling to desperately? How can you end a gap caused largely by people’s life and work choices rather than their gender?

Oh for goodness sake haven’t you got more important things you should be concentrating on.. ?

And this is not just a right-of-centre opinion. Even in the Grauniad it is not much better, with the majority of commenters doubting that the figures revealed over the past couple of days mean anything at all. Again a selection:

For the nth time, it’s not a ‘pay gap’ – which suggests men and women get paid differently for the same job – it’s an ‘earnings gap’, which is a complex phenomenon that’s substantially based on men and women’s different – and voluntary – career choices. This whole debate is poisoned by bogus notions of injustice and identity politics.

You wouldn’t know it from the misleading headlines that women are paid X% less than men. That’s not what the figures say. The figures show there are more men in senior well paid roles and more women in low paid roles. Not good, but not the same s saying there is an equal pay issue, which is a different issue.

There seems to be so many reasons packed into the ‘gender pay gap’ statistical outcome, that it’s hard to know what private companies are supposed to do about it. Even Harriet Harman says this is nothing to do with illegality, yet the implication is that the private company is being blamed.

So, far from being a crime crying out to heaven for vengeance, the “gender pay gap” seems to be something that only politicians and media pundits believe in. The general public, whatever their political stripe, are not taken in. The concerns of the political/media elite are simply not shared – and indeed are mocked and vilified – by the rest of the population. And yet they carry on regardless. In a democracy this can’t go on forever.

Who will Police the Police?

Earlier today I tweeted about a case in the news involving the arrest of a 78-year old man on suspicion of murder after a suspected burglar was stabbed to death.

“What are our police thinking?” I said “He should be given a bloody medal!”.

Nothing better illustrates the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the public and the forces of law and order than the reflexive reaction of the police to arrest a member of the public for defending himself against an armed criminal.

I am not of course saying that finding an intruder in your house gives you carte-blanche to kill them. The facts of the case are crucial. According to the BBC:

“The homeowner discovered two intruders in South Park Crescent, Hither Green, south-east London, at about 00:45 BST.

“One suspect, armed with a screwdriver, forced the man into his kitchen where a struggle ensued and he was stabbed, Scotland Yard said. [My emphasis].

“The 38-year-old was taken to hospital by paramedics but was pronounced dead at 03:40.”

In other words the police had established to their own satisfaction that the 78-year old man (who has not yet been named) was the householder, the deceased was a burglar, and the burglar was holding the householder prisoner and threatening him with a deadly weapon at the time of the stabbing. And knowing all this, they arrested him on suspicion of murder.

“When someone dies the police have to investigate” said a member of my household. Well, of course. But they don’t have to arrest all the witnesses in order to investigate a crime do they? Because that is what the householder is in this case. A victim and a witness. On the face of it this is a clear case of self defence, and the only crime to have been committed is burglary.

When a death has occurred there has to be a thorough investigation, and it remains possible that when all the facts are examined the police might decide there is a case the householder committed a crime. That would be the time to arrest him and charge him.

My point is that when there is a prime facie case that a member of the public has not committed a crime (though a possibility they may have done), and no reason to suspect they will flee, destroy evidence, or fail to cooperate with the police, then there are no legal grounds to arrest them. I am sure from reading about similar cases that police in the United States would not arrest under these circumstances, and they are also a common law jurisdiction.

The police could have taken a statement from this old man as a witness. Or they could have interviewed him under caution. According to reports he suffered minor injuries and he must surely have been traumatised by being burgled, threatened and involved in a life and death struggle with an armed criminal. As far as we know he is still being held in custody. This is inhumane, unnecessary and very probably illegal. Yet we have come to accept the arrest of law-abiding citizens guilty only of defending themselves against criminals as normal.

We must hope this unfortunate pensioner is released without charge as soon as possible and allowed to return home. And unless the facts turn out to be very different from those that Scotland Yard were happy to report to the BBC, a medal for bravery would not be out of place.

On a brighter note, Alison Saunders’ mission at the CPS to imprison everyone with a penis has ended. We must hope the fiasco of putting the police and CPS under political pressure to increase rape convictions, irrespective of the requirements of justice, has been recognised and is at an end too. This is well covered by the Daily Telegraph by Allison PearsonRowan Pelling and Gary Bell.

These episodes could not make clearer the need in this country for a genuinely populist party, by which I mean one representing the populace, the ordinary voters, reasserting our rights over identikit politicians, metropolitan elites and faceless bureaucrats.

After taking back control of our democracy we need to take back control of the police, the CPS and the courts, whose purpose should be to protect and serve the people, not to oppress them.

Update – 9 April 2018

The OAP involved in this case, named as 78-year old Richard Osborne-Brooks was released on bail on Thursday 5 April and on Friday was told he will face no further action.

In a statement, Detective Chief Inspector Simon Harding, of the Met’s Homicide and Major Crime Command, said:

“As expected with any incident where someone has lost their life, my officers carried out a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the death.

“We have approached the CPS for early investigative advice, as required under the guidance.

“We have received and considered that advice, and, at present – on the evidence available – we will not seek a charging decision.

“Therefore, no further action will be taken against the man.”

So far so good, but we have no explanation of the decision to arrest a man who, on the evidence available to the police at the time, had committed no crime, and had in fact been the victim of a crime. Only this:

“While there might be various forms of debate about which processes should be used in cases such as this, it was important that the resident was interviewed by officers under the appropriate legislation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act; not only for the integrity of our investigation but also so that his personal and legal rights were protected.”

That really is not good enough. Police powers of arrest are explained here.

“To arrest you the police need reasonable grounds to suspect you’re involved in a crime for which your arrest is necessary.”

Yet in this case, the original police statement (see above) clearly indicated the householder had done nothing illegal. What is more, grounds for the arrest being “necessary” even if there were reason to believe a crime had been committed, seem to be lacking. Such grounds might include the likelihood of a person committing another crime, destroying evidence, or absconding. None of these would be likely in the case of a 78-year burglary victim, even if subsequent investigations had thrown doubt upon the strength of his “reasonable force” defence.

DCI Harding’s statement appears defensive on this point. No one is going to argue with the view that the circumstances of the death had to be investigated. But he gives no reason why taking a statement under caution would not have been appropriate. According to the Daily Mirror.

a law enforcement source said Mr Osborn-Brooks would have been arrested as a matter of course. [My emphasis]

And I think that is the explanation. But arrest is not a tool for dealing with witnesses, or with victims of crime. We should not accept that the police “as a matter of course” arrest anyone from whom they wish to take a statement. Such an attitude is corrosive to the generally good relationship that has obtained between the British police and general public, and of which both the police and the public have reason to be proud.