Chairman of Police Federation fails to understand need for the rule of law

An article I read in the newspaper a couple of days ago has been deeply troubling me. You have probably seen it. Back in December 2003, an American national David Bieber shot dead a policeman and injured two others. The judge sent him to prison and he was also given a whole life tariff. He appealed against this and the whole life tariff has recently been reduced to 37 years: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2493781/Judiciary-accused-of-having-blood-on-their-hands–over-police-killer-sentence.html

Now some people reading this probably belong to the hang-and-flog ‘em school of thought. I don’t subscribe to that kind of philosophy myself, but would ask the hangers and floggers at The Daily Mail to reflect on the fact Mr Bieber is going to be in his seventies before he is released. It is not like he is going to be out and about in four or five years time. Many people don’t appear to believe that convicted criminals should be treated decently. Again that is not a view I share. However, I don’t want to get in to a discussion about punishment and human rights. (There is an excellent discussion of the case at the excellent UK Liberty blog: http://ukliberty.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/police-killers-sentence-changed-judges-in-trouble-again/. Thanks to UK Liberty so linking to the case itself: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2008/1601.html )

What has been troubling me are the comments of Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation. He recently wrote a letter to the Lord Chief Justice in which he said: “Granting an evil calculated killer any kind of dispensation is criminal and leaves the judiciary with blood on its hands.” He goes on to urge the Lord Chief Justice to do whatever he can to reverse the decision. I had to read Mr McKeever’s letter several times as was I was initially unable to believe some one with responsibility for representing the police could write something so intemperate and inflammatory.

One of the best things about Britain is the rule of law and the fact we have an independent judiciary. Supposedly, the judiciary are independent of the police and parliament. What exactly was Mr McKeever expecting the Lord Chief Justice to do? Possibly he thought he should unilaterally reverse the decision of the judges at the Court of Appeal. Is there any precedent allowing him to do this? I very much doubt it so what we have here is the chairman of the Police Federation urging the Lord Chief Justice to ignore constitutional precedent. He accused the judges of having blood on their hands which would imply they had something to do with the murder of the police officer! It is the kind of language you expect from some one ranting away at the pub after a few drinks. Certainly it shows no respect for the rule of law. The Northern Ireland solicitors Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane were murdered by people who thought they had blood on their hands as result of defending members of the IRA. Possibly Mr McKeever wrote his comment in anger. If that is the case perhaps he would now like to apologise. I particularly liked the comment of Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty: “Police officers, like judges, serve the rule of law which protects everyone. Mr McKeever should reflect on the wisdom of showing such disdain for it.”

What he and the Police Federation could do is discreetly urge the Ministry of Justice to appeal to the House of Lords. That would be a more constitutionally sound way of behaving than urging the Lord Chief Justice to do all he can to reverse the decision. Another option would be to lobby parliament to change law. They might want to ask for mandatory life sentences for police killers or even the return of the death penalty. How compatible this would be with The Human Rights Act is open to debate. However, we could even repeal this act or even withdraw from The Council of Europe. A much better solution would be for The Police Federation to stop writing menacing letters to judges and concentrate on what it is supposed to be doing, that is representing the interests of police officers.

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