Wednesday, August 23, 2006

From Anxiety Newsletter

Tony Blair is a crafty bugger

8 August 2006 - Last year, Tony Blair said: "our system starts from the proposition that its duty is to protect the innocent from being wrongly convicted. Don't misunderstand me. That must be the duty of any criminal justice system. But surely our primary duty should be to allow law-abiding people to live in safety. It means a COMPLETE CHANGE OF THINKING." (Our emphasis)

It's true the foundations of the legal system (eg trial by jury) were put in place to protect people from abuses of power. But what does Blair imagine has CHANGED since the system was founded?

He seems to be implying that the threat from crime (but not from authoritarian government) is greater now than at any other time since, presumably, Magna Carta. There's no evidence to support this (even if "terrorism" is included as a subset of crime). On the contrary, scholarly consensus holds that over the long-term, society has become more peaceful, with massive falls in violent crime. For example:

"In Britain the incidence of homicide has fallen by a factor of at least ten to one since the thirteenth century [...] The long-term declining trend evidently is a manifestation of cultural change in Western society." (Ted Robert Gurr, 'Historical Trends in Violent Crimes', 1981)

"Serious interpersonal violence decreased remarkably in Europe between the mid-sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries." (Manuel Eisner, 'Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime', 2003)

"Personal violence - homicide - has declined in Western Europe from the high levels of the Middle Ages. Homicide rates fell in the early modern era and dropped even further in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." (Eric Monkkonen, 'Homicide: Explaining America's Exceptionalism', 2006)

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