The UK is finally on the verge of sealing its slide into fascism. The Guardian reports that The House of Lords will be looking at the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. This bill will ensure that no one over the age of 10 is immune from willful prosecution by the state. The language reads that an injuction can be imposed against any person who: “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.”
The bill also introduces public space protection orders, which can prevent either everybody or particular kinds of people from doing certain things in certain places. It creates new dispersal powers, which can be used by the police to exclude people from an area (there is no size limit), whether or not they have done anything wrong.
This law it should be noted will likley make anyone who is poor in Britain immediately vulnerable. The bill also makes children vulnerable to a finding of contempt of court including detention in a young offender’s centre. But wait there is more. While the Guardian is reporting on this there is another sister-bill being formulated right now which is going to put a cast-iron lid on the disenfranchisement of the poor in the UK: legal aid reform.
The New Statesman has a series on the reforms being put before The House and it is scary shit if you are poor and facing prosecution in the UK:
- Removal of the defendant’s right to choose a lawyer
- Legal aid lawyers to be paid the same whether a defendant pleads guilty or goes to trial
- Reduction of the income threshold at which defendants will be eligible for legal aid
- Reduction of the number of legal aid providers from 1600 to 400
- Competitive tendering for legal aid contracts
The quick and dirty of this is that defense lawyers will be incentivized to ensure their charges “plea” rather than fight (as is their right) the authorities in court. This effectively evicerates the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The assumption moving forward is that any person taken into custody is de facto guilty if they also happen to need legal aid. The reduction of the threshold for legal aid will ensure the compliance of the nearly impoverished. The narrowing of the number of providers will ensure that a limited pool of criminal lawyers will be responsible for the bulk of Britain’s prosecutions. Finally “competitive tendering” is neoliberal speak for low-balling the estimates for mounting viable non-defences (since the motivation is to plea anyway).
Put these two changes together and you have the completion of the social and political disenfranchisement of an entire socio-economic class. Bravo!
Bonus: anyone living in a Western Democracy should watch these developments carefully. Expect to see some iteration of these innovations coming to a legislature near you.