Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
A long-dormant claim has “more cruelty than justice” (Halsbury’s Laws of England, 4th edition).
Suppose you were to accuse me of punching you in the face. Present – according to you – was only one other witness. Under which of the following circumstances would a reasonable observer believe justice more likely to be done?
A. On the day of the alleged incident you report the alleged crime to the police. On that same day the police interview yourself, the witness and myself, the alleged perpetrator. They charge me, and the next day the evidence is rehearsed in open court.
B. You wait twenty years before reporting the alleged crime. The police invite the BBC to witness my arrest, before repeatedly releasing then re-interviewing me. Each time they do so, the “news” of the interview is somehow passed on to the (learn nothing from Leveson) Press. This cat and mouse process continues for years, during which time I lose my job and my reputation (there’s no smoke without fire! Plus, other people have at times been found guilty of punching people in the face, so…) The witness to the original crime is long dead, but the police also let it be known that they’re investigating my complicity in a number of other high profile cases. “It is important that justice is done,” says the telegenic police officer to the flashing banks of cameras. “We hope any other victims out there, punched in the face by this secret gang, will respond to our request by phoning the special helpline we’ve set up. I promise you: you will be believed.”
Answer “B” and I wouldn’t let you anywhere near the criminal justice system. Officer.
Actually, I intended this morning to write about Chilcot, before being swept off course by the ongoing outrage of the witch-hunting I’m analogising here.
But while the jurisprudential aspect of the investigations into historical allegations of child abuse couldn’t differ more from the inquiry into the Iraq war, they have the same failing; they are failing to meet the same objective. There’s no statute of limitations in UK criminal law, not in matters sexual. Nor is there one into public inquiries concerning the behaviour of warmongering governments. But there should be.
Both investigations have been delayed for far too long. Justice delayed is not only cruel, to supposed victims and alleged perpetrators alike: delay too long, and I don’t believe such an investigation can be justice at all.
By “justice”, we mean the evaluation of evidence and the arrival at a conclusion which is meant to cohere with some form of “objective truth” (innocence or guilt; moral failing or good governance). Over time, evidence becomes stale, and so the conclusions built upon the back of such evidence must become, inherently, less certain. The quest for truth becomes… deranged.
Look at how the Iraq inquiry is starting to “behave”. Chilcot’s report, so expensive and so overdue, has – almost ironically – started to display the worst psychological aspects of its chief human subject. Briefings – whisperings – from those sucked into its maw appear daily in the newspapers. We are told by “sources” close to one party or another that the blame will fall on this politician, or that soldier, or this communications advisor. Thus does the media play its part in apportioning guilt, ahead of the inquiry’s verdict (there’s no smoke without fire, is there?)
In this, it reminds me of the Blairite paradigm at its worst: the smearing of the innocent, in order to gain total political victory (Rose Addis? Paddington train crash survivors? David Kelly? We don’t forget, Mr Blair.) I suppose it’s fitting that an inquiry set up to investigate Blair’s greatest (in terms of its consequence) political act should start to exhibit the worst hallmarks of his mal-administration.
Sir John Chilcot should publish his report soon, for a reason I never believed I would type: even Tony Blair’s government deserves justice. Delay the report much longer and we’re dealing instead with a cruel simulacrum of such an objective. I couldn’t care less about Tony Blair, if I’m honest. But the men he sent to fight in Iraq, I care about them, and they deserve justice too.
This will be my last piece for ConservativeHome. Thank you so much for sticking with me all these years, editors and readers. To be read is a gift. To be read while one worries aloud about daemons and job cuts, as well as the curse of socialism, is little short of a miracle. (I never did get round to dealing with the Vatican’s refusal to let aliens know God; apologies. But Michel Faber does it much better anyway.)
I’ve been asked to join the office of one of our Secretaries of State, to do word-stuff. That means no word-stuff here, or anywhere else. MegaCorp has very graciously given me a year’s leave of absence from the number-stuff to let me do this.
I will miss our home. I’ll miss you. But unlike certain public inquiries – it’s about time, of course, everything is about time – I can see that now we have come to the end.