Publicity masks the illegitimacy of UK policing

One of the oldest UK political myths is policing by consent. We are told often, and especially from our political leaders, that the UK police by consent. The term derives from Robert Peel’s nine Principles of Policing. [1] Police reality shows consistently and continually invoke and publicize the idea of policing by consent. They provide the publicity and oxygen for the myth.

To understand the myth, we need to look at the central principle. To preserve public favour the police require positive publicity. Without the publicity, the reality of policing would begin to erode police legitimacy based on the idea of consent. The more the police need publicity to remind the public of their legitimacy, the less legitimate they become.

  1. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.[2]

Despite the police shows effort to provide a positive, if mundane, view of police officers and the work they do they fail.[3] Invariably, the shows present the police in the right and the perpetrators in the wrong to reinforce the message that the police are a legitimate authority doing the hard job of keeping the public safe, enforce the law, and maintain order. At the end of each episode, we all feel better that there is someone out there working on our behalf to do the difficult work. Yet, this is not the reality.

Even though officers deal with the public in difficult circumstances, we never see the issue from the target’s perspective. The view is always from authority. Moreover, the powerful are always treated different from the weak and vulnerable. Even the courts echo and reinforce this deference to the powerful where the strong do as they will and the weak do as they must.[4]

The police serve the Crown who make the laws not the people

Policing by consent lives by a pious myth that the police are the public and the public are the police.

  1. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.[5]

The police are not the public. They are the Crown’s servants and they enforce the Crown’s laws. They swear an oath to the Queen and not to the public or to Parliament.[6] To believe they are the public misunderstands and confuses the relationship between the people and the Crown. The Crown rules the people. The people do not rule the Crown.

Is it really policing by consent if the regime does not exist by consent?

The UK regime is not founded on or by consent. It has no constitutional moment in which the people have given consent to be ruled.[7] They are, and always have been, ruled by force of arms. The Queen, who is a soldier, sits upon a throne of bayonets and bullets. She may rule according to the law, but she exists beyond the law.[8] Neither Parliament nor the Crown exist by consent. They exist outside of, or beyond, consent.

Like policing itself, the pious fraud protects the regime. Until the UK has policing by consent, it will never be truly legitimate. For the UK to have a policing by consent, it needs a regime based on consent, which cannot be created, by force or fraud.[9]

[1] The Nine Principles of Policing

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

These are found at http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/policeNine.php

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/policing-by-consent

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/culture/tvandradioblog/2009/jun/01/police-reality-tv

[4] Compare the way Sir Michael Peat, Private Secretary to Prince Charles from 2002 to 2012 responded to questions at the phone hacking trial with the way other witnesses and suspects are treated. One can compare this to the way young girls in rape cases were often interrogated by experienced QCs who would use their full skills to discredit a vulnerable witness. The practice has only recently changed. http://collection.europarchive.org/tna/20080205132101/homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs06/rdsolr0106.pdf and http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/07/attorney-general-witnesses-court-cross-examination-dominic-grieve

   “Justice Saunders tried to placate him: “Your evidence is relevant to this case,” he told Peat. “However much you were nagged by the police, we would be grateful if you would spend a few minutes of your time to answer questions.” But Peat wasn’t having it. He said he’d be the judge of what he would answer: “As long as I feel it is relevant,” he said.”

    It was one of the rare moments the hacking trial judge showed the steel beneath the charm, a flash of the ceremonial sword on the wall, usually obscured by his silk robes. “It is not your decision if it is relevant or not,” Justice Saunders said: “It is not your decision. It is my decision – because I am the judge in this court. Let’s have the jury back in….”

    As the jury returned, Justice Saunders explained the reason for the hiatus: “We have done our utmost not to require people to answer questions about their personal life. Sir Michael does not want to answer the question. We will carry on without the question being asked.” He indicated the Crown barrister should continue. Bryant-Heron said flatly: “I have no further questions. Thank you my lord,” and sat down.” (See Peter Jukes Beyond Contempt p101-102).

What we never find out is whether he answered the question and obeyed the law. The judge may have reminded Sir Michael of the law, but it does not appear he was able to make him obey it. Moreover, the QC did not follow up with any questions. One wonders if any other witnesses would be allowed to act as imperiously before the court. Then again, the Judge swears an oath of obedience to the Crown not to the law or to the people. If the Crown’s representative can display such contempt of the rule of law one should not be surprised if other powerful figures would display similar contempt to the rule of law when it does not serve their interests.

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/policing-by-consent

[6] https://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/oaths-that-define-a-political-regime/

[7] http://www.consoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/COSJ2947_The-Crisis-of-the-Constitution_WEB_FINAL.pdf see particularly p. 38 where Vernon Bogdanor invokes the phrase.

“Countries tend to adopt a constitution when they have reached a constitutional moment, when there is a break in their development, either a revolution or a colony achieving independence. Britain has lacked such a constitutional moment since 1689 when the Bill of Rights instead of providing a constitution, served to emphasise the principle of the sovereignty of parliament. That principle acts as a break upon and has served to inhibit constitutional thinking.

For, if Parliament is sovereign, and there can be no rule superior to that enacted by Parliament, a constitution or fundamental law can have no authority. The British constitution indeed can be summarised in just eight words – Whatever the Queen in Parliament enacts is law.”

[8] “Given the historical development of the Sovereign as the ‘Fount of Justice’, civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law. Acts of Parliament do not apply to The Queen in her personal capacity unless they are expressly stated to do so.” https://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Queenandthelaw/HowUKandEUlawaffectTheQueen.aspx (accessed 24 May 2015)

[9] See Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Book I 2.41-46. If a regime rules without consent it is tyrannical. The UK citizens have not consented to have the Queen as their ruler and they must accept the next ruler as they have no choice, they have no consent in the matter. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0208%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D2%3Asection%3D41

[41]

“Tell me, Pericles,” he said, “can you teach me what a law is?”

“Certainly,” he replied.

“Then pray teach me. For whenever I hear men praised for keeping the laws, it occurs to me that no one can really deserve that praise who does not know what a law is.”

[42]

“Well, Alcibiades, there is no great difficulty about what you desire. You wish to know what a law is. Laws are all the rules approved and enacted by the majority in assembly, whereby they declare what ought and what ought not to be done.”

“Do they suppose it is right to do good or evil?”

“Good, of course, young man, — not evil.”

[43]

“But if, as happens under an oligarchy, not the majority, but a minority meet and enact rules of conduct, what are these?”

“Whatsoever the sovereign power in the State, after deliberation, enacts and directs to be done is known as a law.”

“If, then, a despot, being the sovereign power, enacts what the citizens are to do, are his orders also a law?”

“Yes, whatever a despot as ruler enacts is also known as a law.”

[44]

“But force, the negation of law, what is that, Pericles? Is it not the action of the stronger when he constrains the weaker to do whatever he chooses, not by persuasion, but by force?”

“That is my opinion.”

“Then whatever a despot by enactment constrains the citizens to do without persuasion, is the negation of law?”

“I think so: and I withdraw my answer that whatever a despot enacts without persuasion is a law.”

[45]

“And when the minority passes enactments, not by persuading the majority, but through using its power, are we to call that force or not?”

“Everything, I think, that men constrain others to do ‘without persuasion,’ whether by enactment or not, is not law, but force.”

“It follows then, that whatever the assembled majority, through using its power over the owners of property, enacts without persuasion is not law, but force?”

[46]

“Alcibiades,” said Pericles, “at your age, I may tell you, we, too, were very clever at this sort of thing. For the puzzles we thought about and exercised our wits on were just such as you seem to think about now.”

“Ah, Pericles,” cried Alcibiades, “if only I had known you intimately when you were at your cleverest in these things!”

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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