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Why the courts shouldn’t crack the Whip

Mitchell allegedly swore several times at the officers calling them ‘plebs’ and ‘morons’.

Why the courts shouldn’t crack the Whip

On Friday, Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell failed to quell calls for his resignation after his highly publicised outburst against Downing Street Police. The incident arose after officers asked him to dismount his bicycle to use the pedestrian gate. Frustrated at this, Mitchell allegedly swore several times at the officers calling them ‘plebs’ and ‘morons’.

The official police report records that Mitchell used those words, however he strongly claims somewhat cryptically, that he did not use the words ‘attributed to him’. As the calls for his resignation mounted, Labour had tabled a motion in Parliament for his salary to be docked £1,000, the typical penalty for a public order offence.

Mitchell apologised for his behaviour to both the Police force and the individual officers who dealt with him, attributing his rant to a frustrating day at work. The head of the Metropolitan Police and the officer present have accepted his apology. Nevertheless, it seems Labour did not let the story fade away without squeezing every drop of bad publicity they can from the incident. Ed Miliband took the opportunity to capitalise on the Chief Whip’s mistake, claiming he’s ‘toast’ at the first Prime Ministers questions since the summer recess. Cameron gave no excuses for Mitchell’s behaviour, and rightly so. There can be no condoning the actions of the Chief Whip. His behaviour towards the police was absolutely unacceptable, but Labour’s idea to dock £1,000 from his salary would have been wrong for several reasons.

For a political party to decide that they should enforce a criminal sanction on an MP undermines not only the Police force, but the criminal justice system as a whole. The police had complete discretion to arrest Mitchell if they felt it necessary. Their decision not to arrest the Chief Whip did not prevent them from referring the case to court, if they felt that was necessary too. Ignoring these decisions undermines the police, and infers that their decision was ultimately wrong in not dealing with the situation adequately. Mitchell, if referred by the police, would then proceed to court, where all the facts would be established in front of a Magistrate who would be independent from Government. He would be qualified to calculate the appropriate level of sentence based on the particulars of the crime. Members of Parliament are not qualified in the same respect. They are in their nature, politically biased, and are likely to seek a punishment disproportionate to the crime.

There is no case to excuse Mitchell’s behaviour, but there is equally no case for Labour to take justice into their own hands. His resignation may have been appropriate, but giving a criminal penalty without going through the courts is not.

23/10/2012

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Joe Ferris



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