By Richard Bingley, Director CSARN and Course Leader for the BA Security Consultancy programme. He is author of: ‘Terrorism: Just the Facts’.
The functionality of elements of Britain’s legal system is under scrutiny again this week. Indeed, if one tries to develop an understanding via newspaper and broadcasts alone, then it wouldn’t be an unreasonable conclusion to politely suggest that the UK legal system appears to be a sprawling mass of contradiction.
Indeed, some of our students beginning our Semester Two Law and Regulations module in January 2014, might question whether areas of the legal system reflect or equate to natural justice at all.
But the UK is not unique in experiencing a sense of crisis around its legal system. To my mind, the causes are myriad: national governments legislating too much - and not extinguishing, enforcing or modernising existing statute. Then there is the corresponding existence of several legal systems (military and civil, for example); the ill-thought-out acceptance of, and often ambivalent roll-out of transnational legislation by amnesic national legislators. Perhaps also, there is an issue of regional devolution? Why does it, for example, take a national government to decide on the widening of non-motorway roads running to Great Yarmouth or beyond Tunbridge Wells? Perhaps, as in Scotland and Wales, a powerful minister from within an elected, devolved assembly, could spend their Parliamentary time deciding such matters in order to free-up national ministers often with a limited shelf-life to get a grip? ......
On the surface, then, the UK legal system appears, at times, like a hybrid comedic-horror movie: a mix between a Chimpanzee’s Tea Party and a ‘Kangaroo’ court. Overloaded Government ministers, perhaps hoping to be reformist legal referees, too often get stuck in the crossfire – we can possibly understand some figuratively hiding under a table wondering why they ever got involved. Some MPs, ironically, may have quit the ‘profession’ of law to enter Parliament and embark upon public service.
Little wonder then, that it has taken two decades to still not widen the A47 in Norfolk, and A21 at Tunbridge Wells, and likewise it took around a decade to eject an influential public supporter of mass casualty terrorism, back to face trials that he absconded from in the moderate Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The tortoise-like progress (more like, machinations) would be forgivable if one could identify a clear line of accountability and clear sense of control. Too often, neither appears to exist.
But in many other cases, events seem to happen at a pace which leaves a vapour trail of toxic destruction smouldering behind.
A perception that the UK legal system is iniquitous appears at the moment to be reinforced with each new revelation. Notwithstanding the dreadful example of duty of care to a military family, the controversial naming of a British Royal Marine yesterday for the murder of a Taleban insurgent may well end up costing taxpayers several millions of pounds over the next few decades because one would hope that protection will be provided to family members, existing/future neighbours, the legal team and work colleagues.
I’m sure there are many security and legal analysts out there today writing thousands of words on the operational impact of this decision. Already some are exploring: Will it further hit recruitment? Will any individuals and children need new identities? Do public authorities have a legal duty of care to members of the armed forces and their families in exceptional cases such as this?
Nevertheless, UK civil courts system seems to offer a conveyor belt of protection for wealthy celebrities who can find the time and money to, firstly, carry out the misdemeanours that sees them being poked fun out of on Twitter or in a tabloid, and, secondly, go through the exhausting rigmarole of trying to cover up whatever ‘it’ is by way of meetings in barristers chambers and super-injunction launches.
Contradictions and selectivity seem therefore to exist within our legal system if we follow closely and sensitively the different nuances and perspectives of the very dynamic and kinetic news environment here in the UK. For example, as we formally widen the EU next month, more than one national newspaper is urging that the British government break European law and prohibit the free movement of people, goods and trade from Romania and Bulgaria. Whilst media commentator’s such as The Guardian’s Zoe Williams seem to have a better grasp of British and European law; telling a BBC News Review programme that such action could be deemed “racist” and that the UK government could no more enact an access control policy against Bulgarians and Romanians in 2014, as it could, say, against the French – because both, like Britain, are full members of the EU and privy to the binding group decisions of that club.
So why has it all gone so wrong? Well, it undoubtedly has in parts. But with courage and common sense its fixable – perhaps when it comes to national security and civil resilience issues senior politicians can work in unison… we are facing (and always have) emerging threats and risks where the mix of puerile political point-scoring - which now seems a pre-eminent feature of British politics, rather than peripheral knockabout of the past - must indeed stop for the sake of our own societal and community resilience.
But ‘what can we do about it?’ as national and global citizens, is a far more interesting question. T
he answer may be quite simple: ‘education’. Everything I have said to you above is entirely predictable. The slowness of infrastructure building; the rejection of a duty of care by a public body; the expansion of transnational legislation without sensible or honest impact analysis by naturally optimistic but professionally incurious political decision-makers. The key is to build your own knowledge to know why it’s predictable and to reflect and anticipate about the impact on your domain.
In fact, much, if not all of the legal decision-making I chose to describe above, has been implemented upon tablets of legal stone. It is not random, and not that complex at all. The foundations of the legal system as it relates to security management and societal resilience are often very clear and robust. It’s only because the knowledge of it is so poor people seem so shocked and appalled each time the so-called failing of the law is ‘scalped’ and ripped apart by carnivorous journalists.
Our BA Security Consultancy students are just about to embark on their Year 2 Law and Regulations module. From the UN Charter, to European regulations and directives, down to national legislation and local authority controls, they will be provided with the baseline functionality not just to uphold legal compliance but also use law to protect themselves and inspire cultural resilience in their organisations, in their own countries. They, of course, will graduate well before any more major changes to security legislation; but at least they should see it coming and know precisely how to respond.