Wednesday, 10 May 2017

So, Ignorance of the Law is Now a Valid Defence!

It has long been a tenet of English Law that ignorance is no defence.  The Crown Prosecution Service today seem to have overturned that tenet.  Having been passed dossier after dossier from police services from across the country, in relation to the expenses returns of conservative candidates in the 2015 General Election, the CPS has decided that it could not proceed to prosecute in any single one of them.  The files are thought to have covered up to around 30 sitting Tory MP's.

The CPS has not said that nothing wrong was done.  On the contrary, they accept that the expenses that should have been attributed to local expenses, in relation to hundreds of Tory activists who shipped in by battle bus, who had their accommodation in expensive hotels paid for them by Tory central office, and so on, should have been, attributed to the local election campaign, but, in many instances were not, and were instead attributed to the much more generous national expenses account.  Indeed, they could hardly have come to a different conclusion given what Election Law actually says, quite clearly, and given that the Electoral Commission has already imposed the largest possible, and largest ever fine on the Tory Party, for its actions in having done so!

Yet, despite all that, the CPS say they can't find anyone to prosecute!  Why, because they say that they cannot prove that any of the local candidates or their agents actually knowingly did anything wrong!  Really?  The Tory Party is the oldest political party in the country, it has been running election campaigns and sending in election returns for centuries, though its earliest ones were for the rotten boroughs, at a time when it was quite legal for candidates to buy votes, which is how many of its first MP's got their seats!  Moreover, the Tory Party, in its local committees, is stuff full to the gills of solicitors, barristers, accountants and former judges.

Yet, we are to believe that none of these esteemed professionals understood election law sufficiently to be able to know that sticking thousands of pounds of local election expenses on to the national returns was illegal?  Remember that this is the same election law that for the last 100 years, coal miners, potters, engineers and other manual workers acting as candidates and as agents were expected to understand.  If all these ordinary workers were able to understand it and stay within the law over the last last century what does that say about the calibre of all those professional members of the Tory Party, including those that find their way into its upper ranks and into government?   After all, this scandal was exposed not by any politician or agent, but by a journalist!

However, what the CPS have done by this decision is to open a whole can of legal worms.  The main thrust of the ruling from the CPS appears to be that it would be impossible to prove that any candidate or agent knowingly committed a crime, because they had all been told by Tory Central Office that it was legitimate to put the expenses down to the national return.

Well, in that case lots of people do not knowingly commit crimes every day.  If you haven't been keeping a sharp eye on your speedo, you might not knowingly have broken the law by going over the speed limit, for example.  And, if being told by someone else that it was okay to undertake an action thereby excuses you of any culpability, then there are tens of thousands of criminals who will equally be able to stand in front of a judge, and say "Not guilty, judge, a friend told me it was quite legal!"

We can then now expect, in every case where some poor sod is brought up before the beak on charges of benefit fraud because they claimed a couple of quid more than they should have done, that the charges will be dropped, as soon as the defendant says to the prosecutor, have you seen the number of pages, and all the complicated rules in the Benefit Claims Forms?  If all of the Brains Trust of the Tory Party can't understand a few simple rules for election expenses, how on Earth do you expect people like me to understand all of this guff, they will surely now validly say in their defence.

But, of course, there is a further point, which the CPS have not addressed.  If the defence of the candidates and agents was that they did not knowingly commit an offence, because they followed the advice given to them by Tory Central Office, and yet, if its clear from what the Electoral Commission, and now the CPS say, that some of the expenses for the Battle Bus etc. should have been attributed to local campaigns, should we not now then expect to see those in Tory Central Office who gave this wrongful advice to the local candidates and agents charged with inducement to commit an illegal act?  Or are we also now expected to swallow the idea that all of the high paid lawyers and so on employed by Tory Party HQ, also did not understand the law?

We are left with a picture of the Tory Party, where either it is stuffed full of very highly paid professionals, who do not understand very much about the law, which means that they are expecting us to elect a bunch of incompetents into government, even if they may be strong and stable incompetents, or else we have a Tory Party drunk on power, and acted like all of those other strong and stable tinpot dictators around the world who believe that the law is there only to be imposed on the poor, and the little people, whilst they flout it at their will.

In other words, they have grown used to a system that works for the tiny few, and not for the many. The role of the many is only to do the work to make that few very rich, and to know their place.

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