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Barbara's Blog

POWER CUT

20-08-2009

Electric Pylon

A raft of new "on the spot" fines offences which can be levied by the police acting as "judge and jury" has alarmed Barbara Panvel. The solution, she says, rests with people power.

Why was a non-driver alarmed on hearing the Department for Transport’s proposal to create a further 21 fixed penalty offences - many of them directed against motorists -which can be levied by the police?

As Chris Hunt Cooke, chairman of The Magistrates' Association's road traffic committee, said: recent experience with out-of-court disposals shows that the police cannot be relied on to use them as intended.

Power is being transferred, step by step, from the judicial system and civil society to the police.

This power can be used to their own advantage or to control those few members of the public who are not too cowed or too indifferent to protest on the streets. Images of police brutality during the G20 protests have brought back to the surface memories of government's deployment of police to suppress the miners in 1984.

However, on the whole, restraint is now far more subtle. Outright brutality is less common than excessive control. ‘Kettling’ – penning up people who are lawfully demonstrating, for over four hours with no access to food, drink or lavatories - is a new and unjustifiable form of punitive action. Individuals are also intimidated in other ways.

The Counter Terrorism Act 2008 can be misinterpreted; in one instance two policemen forced Austrian tourists to delete photographs they had taken of the London's sights, in the name of preventing terrorism.

Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said "This is another example of the police completely overreaching the anti-terrorism powers . . . if it was not for people taking photos, we would not know about the death of Ian Tomlinson or the woman who was hit by a police officer” See (The Guardian and The Stirrer)

The judiciary can speak out very effectively for themselves but what about ‘civil society’ – ordinary people? Many valued events, such as annual fetes, Remembrance Day parades and scout marches are prevented from taking place by excessive police fees charged and the added costs of legal notices and road closures.

Advice on a message board could be followed for smaller local events:

“Do it anyway. Gather enough responsible adults to march with the children. Things won’t change unless you take affirmative action. You don’t need permission - just do it yourselves.”

Our form of democracy is very limited and in the short term the only influence the general public can exert is to take such a stand - as they did with the poll tax.

Only when politicians realise they don’t have public support – meaning they probably won't be re-elected – will they reconsider such decisions.

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