Secret civil servants, judicial modesty, and pacifist respectability

IssueJuly to August 2006
Comment by Albert Beale

According to press reports, the MoD is refusing to comply with the Information Commissioner's ruling that they should release details of the 500 civil servants employed to promote British arms exports because “they could be harassed by pacifists”.

Well, it's no wonder really. Everyone must have noticed those marauding hordes of militant pacifists, flaunting their white poppies, giving out leaflets about Gandhi, even trying to sell copies of Peace News - they're so intimidating.

But for something really frightening, did you see that political demo the other day by pinstriped businessmen, over the extradition of some of their mates to the USA? It's time to revive the old Stop the City demos from years back, in expectation of support rather than abuse from the office windows this time round.

Silence in court

It's true what people say about judges being out of touch - look at the ruling in the Critical Mass court case [see cover story]. The judiciary are so behind the times that some of them still think that citizens should be allowed to hang onto a few of those quaint old historic British freedoms that foreigners get told about.

And judges can also be modest. The senior judge in the CM case was Lord Justice Sedley. At the end of his judgement, there is a section which seems almost gratuitous in terms of the legal issues. Judge Sedley approvingly refers to Lord Scarman's report on the policing of the 1974 Red Lion Square demonstration (where a demonstrator was killed): Scarman spoke of reluctance to bring in laws placing prior restrictions on the exercise of a historic liberty. What the Lord Justice fails to mention, is that the lawyer representing the demonstrators at the inquiry which led to the Scarman report, who forcefully put just such views before Lord Scarman, was a then young radical barrister with a name which - if the Mole's memory is correct - rhymes with “medley”.

Quoted in the Commons

Readers of Hansard might have had a shock the other day, finding that the Peace Pledge Union was repeatedly quoted - in a Commons debate on the Armed Forces Bill - as a reliable source of information (in a way that the MoD wasn't) on the legal procedures for soldiers to assert their right to conscientiously object to continuing in their job.

This is rather a contrast to the last time - as far as The Mole can remember - that the PPU cropped up in parliament. That was back in the days of Prime Minster Thatcher, when she agreed with the then Tory MP for Salisbury that the white poppies promoted by the PPU around Remembrance time were a disgrace.

So has pacifism now become respectable? We'll have to wait for further signs. Maybe the day that PN is trusted enough to be given an advance, embargoed copy of a parliamentary Defence Committee report which slags off the MoD... Crikey! Guess what happened the other day!

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