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The Presumption of Innocence is Worth Protecting No Matter What the Cost

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Jemma Beale was sentenced to ten years imprisonment after it was found she had made repeated false rape allegations. 

In February 2013, Vassar College student, Xialou “Peter” Yu was accused of sexual assault by fellow student, Mary Claire Walker. The accusation stemmed from an incident occurring twelve months previously in which Walker had accompanied Yu back to his dorm room after a party and initiated consensual sex. Walker herself broke off the coitus early. She had decided that it was too soon after ending her relationship with her boyfriend to embark on a sexual relationship with another man. She even expressed remorse for having “lead Yu on” and insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

Nevertheless, at some point, Walker decided that she had been sexually assaulted and Yu was mandated to stand before a college tribunal. At this tribunal, Yu was refused legal representation, had his attempts at cross-examining his accuser repeatedly stymied, and potential eyewitness testimonies from both Yu and Walker’s roommates were suppressed by the campus gender equality compliance officer. Supposedly because they had “nothing useful to offer.” In what can only be described as a gross miscarriage of justice, Yu was found guilty and summarily expelled.

Unfortunately, the kind of show trials that condemned Yu is not entirely uncommon in American colleges and universities (and, like many social diseases, are starting to infect Australian campuses, as well). They are the result of years of unchallenged feminist influence on upper education. These institutions have swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, the feminist lie that every single woman who claims to be sexually assaulted must be telling the truth.

The problem begins with those who make public policy. The US Department of Education has been seduced by the ludicrous idea that modern, western societies are a “rape culture.” They have brought into the lie that one-in-five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, despite the fact that this statistic (which conveniently seems to come up with exactly the same ratio no matter where it’s used) comes from an easily disproven web-based survey.

This survey, which was conducted at two universities in 2006, took only fifteen minutes to complete and had a response rate of just 5466 undergraduate women aged between eighteen and twenty-five. Furthermore, it was poorly formulated with researchers asking women about their experiences and then deciding how many of them had been victims of sexual misconduct.

Regardless, the lack of credibility that this survey possessed did not stop the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights from laying out guidelines for handling reports of sexual misconduct. Among these recommendations was that reports of sexual misconduct should be evaluated on the “preponderance of evidence” rather than the more traditional “clear and convincing evidence.” This radical shift in standards of proof means that accuser only has to prove that there is a reasonable chance that a sexual assault occurred rather than having to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

It would be an understatement to say the college and university rape tribunals – and the policies that inform them – violate every legal principle and tradition of western law. American colleges and universities have created an environment in which male students can be stigmatised as sexual deviants with little to no evidence aside from an accusation. These tribunals not only violate standards of proof but the presumption of innocence, as well.

That these tribunals have decided to do away with the presumption of innocence should hardly come as a surprise. After all, the mere idea of the presumption of innocence is antithetical to human nature. It is natural for human-beings to presume that someone is guilty just because they have been accused of something. As the Roman jurist, Ulpian pointed out: the presumption of innocence flies in the face of that seductive belief that a person’s actions always result in fair and fit consequences. People like to believe that someone who has been accused of a crime must have done something to deserve it.

The presumption of innocence is the greatest legal protection the individual has against the state. It means that the state cannot convict anyone unless they can prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. We should be willing to pay any price to preserve it. And we certainly shouldn’t allow extra-legal tribunals to do away with it just to satisfy their ideological proclivities.

The Death of Comedy

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In March of this year, the vlogger Mark Meechan was convicted in a Scottish Court of violating the Communications Act 2003 for a video he had uploaded to YouTube in April 2016. The video, which Meechan claimed had been produced for comedic purpose (he claimed he wanted to annoy his girlfriend), featured a pug dog making Hitler salutes with its paw, responding to the command “gas the Jews” by tilting its head, and watching a Nazi rally at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Scottish Court that convicted Meechan (who is much better known as ‘Count Dankula’) concluded that he had been motivated to produce the video by religious prejudice. Perhaps without realising it, by convicting Meechan, the Scottish legal system has illustrated the importance of free speech and the threat that political correctness poses to it.

Unfortunately, legally and politically incited attacks against both free speech and comedy are not limited to the United Kingdom. In Canada, politically correct inspired attempts to silence comedians have been instantiated into law. In one alarming case, the Quebec Human Rights Commission awarded Jeremy Gabriel, a disabled former child star, $35,000 in damages after he was ridiculed in a comedy routine by Mike Ward.

It is little wonder, then, that some comedians have seen cause for alarm. Some, like Chris Rock, now refuse to perform on college campuses because of the oversensitivity of some of the students. Others, like legendary Monty Python star John Cleese, have warned that comedians face an “Orwellian nightmare.”

Political correctness is the antithesis of comedy. It is not that comedians have been prevented from practising their craft, but that the pressures political correctness place on them makes it difficult to do so. The comedian feels himself pressured to self-censor himself because of the way words are categorised by their supposed offensive or inoffensiveness. And he finds himself fearful of having his words twisted and misinterpreted to mean something other than what he meant it to mean.

Much of the problem arises from a culture that has elevated politics to something approximating religion. And, like all zealots, the fanatics of this new religion have attempted to conform every aspect of society to their new faith. It is the job of the comedian to make me laugh. It is not his job, as some would have you believe, to play the role of political activist.

Unfortunately, that view is not one held by many on the radical left. In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Judith Lucy opined that people wanted to “hear people talk about politics or race.” And it seems that there are people who agree with Lucy. Comedy is not to be used to bring joy to people, but as a platform to espouse politics. Comedy has become a form of propaganda. And it is the liberal agenda that determines what is considered funny and what isn’t.

What the politically correct offer instead of genuinely funny comedy is comedy as a form of political activism. Comedy is to be used to spread progressive ideas and political correctness is to be used to silence that which opposes those ideas. Take, for example, Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing, which revolved around a conservative protagonist, which was cancelled by the American Broadcasting Company despite its popularity.

And nowhere can this trend of comedy as political activism can be seen more readily than in the current incarnations of late-night television. Legendary comics like Johnny Carson and David Letterman established late-night television as a form of entertainment that provided light-hearted entertainment before sending its audience off to bed. It was not afraid of offending people in order to do so, either. Today, however, this willingness to offend others seems only to be targeted towards those on the right of the political spectrum. It is as though the late-night comedian has decided to use his position to preach progressive politics to its audience rather than using their talent to make insightful and hilarious observations about the world around us. The result is that late-night host places commenting on political or social matters above entertaining his audience.

It is as though the late-night host has replaced humour for indignation. The “jokes” (in reality they are tirades) contain more than a modicum of vitriol and resentment. Samantha Bee referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless cunt”, Stephen Colbert accused President Trump of being Vladimir Putin’s “cock holster”, so on and so forth.

While it may seem alarming, it is precisely what happens when comedians see themselves as activists rather than entertainers. As Danna Young, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware, commented:

“When comics abandon humour and go with anger instead, they come just another ‘outrage’ host. Now, if that’s cool with them, great. But if they are looking to capitalise on the special sauce of humour, then they’ll need to take their anger and use it to inform their craft, but not have it become their craft.”

Fortunately, there is a litany of comedians who refuse to conform their comedy to the morays of political correctness and progressive politics. Numerous comedians have denigrated political correctness as the “elevation of sensitivity over truth” (Bill Maher) and “America’s newest form of intolerance” (George Carlin). Jerry Seinfeld, a man whose comedy routines are considered among the least offensive in comedy, referred to political correctness as “creepy” on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Bill Burr accused social justice warriors of being bullies. Likewise, Ricky Gervais has tweeted “if you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things you find ‘grossly offensive’, you don’t believe in free speech.”

And all of this is not to say that political correctness has destroyed genuinely funny comedy, either. Netflix has spent a great deal of money producing comedy specials that are, in many cases, far for inoffensive. Ricky Gervais comedy special Humanity has featured jokes about rape, cancer, transgenderism, AIDS, and the Holocaust.

Comedy has been threatened by both progressive politics and political correctness. Mark Meechan may have found himself running afoul of the politically correct left, but as long as their people who stand committed to free speech and comedians prepared to make offensive jokes, the laughter will continue.

JUSTICE AND MERCY

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This is our weekly theological article.

It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.

Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.

Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice.  When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:

“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies,  in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice,  nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice,  such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”

God tempers His divine justice with mercy.  If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.

CHARLIE GARD LOSES THE FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE

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The British courts have blood on their hands. Today, Charlie Gard’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, have dropped their legal battle to take their son to the United States for experimental treatment. According to the couple’s barrister, Grant Armstrong, irreversible muscle and tissue damage suffered by eleven-month-old Charlie has made it too late for the experimental treatment to have any effect.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates spent months fighting for their son, who received offers of help from Pope Francis and President Trump. Unfortunately, despite raising over a million dollars for his cause, time wasting by the British Courts have forced Charlie’s parents to switch off his life-support.

Charlie suffered from a rare mitochondrial disorder known as Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome. The condition left him paralysed and unable to breathe unaided. On June 30th, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against transporting Charlie to the United States and ordered his life support be switched off.

Charlie’s parents issued the following statement:

“This is one of the hardest things that we will ever have to do, which is let our beautiful Charlie go. Put simply, this is about a sweet, gorgeous, innocent little boy who was born with a rare disease who had a real, genuine chance at life, and a family who loved him so very dearly and that’s why we fought so hard for him. As Charlie’s devoted and loving parents, we have decided it is no longer in Charlie’s best interest to pursue treatment, and we will let our son go and be with the angels. Our son is an absolute warrior and we could not be prouder of him, and we will miss him terribly. His body, heart, and soul may soon be gone, but his spirit will live on for eternity, and he will make a difference to peoples’ lives for years to come, we will make sure of that. We are now going to spend our last precious moments with our son, Charlie, who, unfortunately, won’t make his first birthday in just under two weeks time, and we will ask our privacy is respected at this very difficult time. To Charlie, we say, mummy and daddy, we love you so much. We always have and we always will and we are so sorry that we couldn’t save you.  Sweet dreams, baby. Sleep tight, our beautiful little boy. We love you. Thank you”

Charlie Gard’s case is one of the greatest examples of the evil which can be inflicted when governments and the courts are vested with too much power.