It seems a couple of rather illiberal policies seem to have found their way into the Scottish Labour Party campaign.
The first, which is part of the manifesto, is to “retain the DNA samples of all crime suspects“.
A common argument from civil liberties campaigners is that such a policy effectively makes people into permenant crimminal suspects. However, I am not so sure that this would blight your outlook, in the same way that young ‘hoodies’ become demoralised by the feeling that they are always under suspicion. Or does the hidden nature of the suspicion make it more sinister? Either way, more worrying is the possibility that the DNA database could be comprimised: either accidentally, in which case a ‘false positive’ result could convict an innocent person of a crime they did not commit; or on purpose, with a person being framed for monetary or political gain.
One reason why our laws have been structured as they are, is to protect innocent people from mistakes, maladministration and malign intent. The careful procedures for the collection (and then destruction) of bodily fluids and DNA samples are in place precisely so that the chain of evidence remains intact, and therefore beyond question. Weakening this chain weakens the justice system.
The second policy is the Instant ASBO:
Scottish Labour this week revealed plans to create new ‘instant ASBOs’ to allow the police to take immediate action against the small minority who disrespect and undermine our communities, without having to go through the normal court process. The tough new measure will be available to use by new community policing teams and will stay in place until the offender can convince a court that they have changed and will not offend again.
This is a 180 degree reversal of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. It is true that methods for establishing law and order could be made more efficient, but eliminating the very principles of law upon which our system is founded is the wrong solution to the problem. Its like being asked to solve a mathematical equation, and simply changing the answer to fit your workings out.
Laws with integrity, which everyone perceives to be fair and just, form bonds that keep communities together. What is so tragic about these proposals is that they will undoubtedly be subjected to their first test in those poor and ethnic minority and communities that (the politicians keep telling us) need a little more social cohesion. The first instant ASBO will not be issued on the red granite streets of leafy Newington, but on the grey concrete schemes of Sighthill. These policies will experience their first malfunction among the under-privileged youths that Labour is so eager to help. They will breed indignation and a sense of injustice long before anyone feels safe, free, or empowered.