Socialist Worker

The system protects the police, not us

An experienced defence lawyer spoke to Siân Ruddick about how the Gaza protesters have been betrayed by the criminal justice system.

Issue No. 2188

‘There is unfairness in the way cases are being built against protesters arrested after the Gaza demonstrations.

These are good people who are trying to change the world for the better. They now face heavy sentences for relatively minor actions because of the decision to charge them with violent disorder.

The sheer number of people being charged, and the nature of the charges, makes it difficult to argue for individually-tailored sentencing.

With lesser public order offences, you can hopefully persuade the court of good character, and having no previous convictions carries greater weight.

But there is huge pressure on defendants to plead guilty.

The threat of a prison sentence and the possiblity of getting a third off your proposed sentence if you plead guilty early, all adds to the pressure.

The police increasingly use video evidence to identify demonstrators.

In the past, police would arrest people on the day and write up their notes to justify the case later.

Witness

During the 1990 poll tax demonstrations the police had to drop charges because they didn’t have the evidence.

One case fell apart because an officer was a witness to one incident, while also claiming to witness one about a mile away.

Today police photograph and monitor demonstrators throughout the day. Then they go through the films, identify people and arrest them later.

Some of the Gaza protesters were arrested eight months after the demonstration.

But since the G20 protests there has been a debate about “human rights policing” – that people have a right to demonstrate and that the police should be more sensitive to the rights of the people on protests.

Whatever happens as a result of this debate will be too late for the Gaza demonstrators.

Kettling isn’t used to calm situations down or even contain people. Instead it creates panic in crowds and is used by police to gather evidence.

On the Gaza protests police released one demonstrator at a time, taking mugshots before they were allowed to go.

The police are holding details of thousands of people. This and heavy sentencing inevitably acts to deter people from going on demonstrations which are a vital part of any democratic society.

Prison ruins people’s lives. You have to be tough to survive it. Having a conviction also makes it harder to get a job, particularly during a recession.

It’s a disaster that police and the criminal justice system are treating people in this way.’


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