Last night I lampooned the Attorney General’s recent statements, and this morning the good and noble Guy Herbert picked me up on it:
@alecmuffett That misrepresents what he said. There is a real problem here: how to manage fair trial. Internet creates new difficulties.
— Guy Herbert (@guy_herbert) February 7, 2013
Guy is absolutely correct – he has also identified what I consider the proper function of hyperbole: as an adjunct to satire. Let’s look at what Guy said, which I consider to be right:
There is a real problem here: how to manage fair trial.
Internet creates new difficulties.
Also, agree 100%, although I would say challenges. Now let’s compare this to what the Attorney General is quoted as saying, the cited body of which I consider to be illiberal, dangerous and uninformed. The first three words:
“Trial by Google”
Wrong. Google are not trying anyone and this is a misrepresentation; however if he’d said:
Open access to the corpus of the world’s historical communication and comment offends the principle of open justice…
…then there would doubtless be a public stink about his lamenting the lack of either the network-illiterate (hence my lampoon) or of adequate censorship; the AG continues:
“…offends the principle of open justice. It should be clear to the defendant, the public, the victim and the prosecution what the evidence in the case is.”
In my industry we fix this issue using a “scope document”, a list of what you are expected to do and consider and anything not on that document is to be beyond your consideration.
One of the keystones of the British judicial system is the notion that jurors are incapable of ignoring information when reaching a verdict and thus must be kept ignorant of broader context. This is the issue at hand: either we must adapt the system or get better jurors.
Dominic Grieve / the AG, however, seems to prefer whinging about the Internet and Web:
“If a jury is exposed to prejudicial material which, for whatever reason, is not before the court, the basis on which the defendant is convicted or acquitted will never be known.”
…yet for some reason, when information does leak, judges are permitted to wag their fingers and tell the jury that they must not consider such-and-such information when reaching a verdict; but the judiciary clearly consider this to be a kludge rather than an acceptable way forward.
I would now like to see the full text of Grieve’s speech; perhaps later today I shall peruse the Internet in search of it, possibly using Google in the process.
And that is the point. The Internet is now a pre-existing condition but the judiciary – indeed all of the pillars of state – repeatedly and in offhand ways demonstrate their complete misunderstanding of its nature. The Internet is not a thing.
The Internet is communication.
The Internet is speech and the Internet is… books.
Yes! Let’s bend grammar and say that the Internet is speech and books – it is clearly more than one book and it is not a “library” because that would be a place and would invoke the internet-as-space metaphor which I debunk elsewhere.
So we are all now learning to speak TCP nation unto nation and we are learning to locate and read all these books that are somehow spontaneously kicking around in our laptops and smartphones.
Anyone or any organisation who says that the ability to speak and the ability to read – that the existence of an educated, engaged and communicating populace – is a problem, is wrong. To even suggest such is to betray Machiavellian sentiment, and Niccolo – gawd bless ‘im – was writing a book about what was good for the prince and not necessarily for the people.
Hence my issue with the Attorney General, and with the State’s metacontext of the Internet.
UPDATE: Earlier version of this article en-passant named the AG / the author of the speech as Starmer (DPP) rather than Grieve (AG); Brainfart, fixed. Thanks @millymoo. That’s what I get for typing with insufficient caffeine.