Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “criminal justice system”

Do Americans have any concept of "justice"?

I begin to wonder if the American legal system has any concept of justice at all.

In the course of a discussion about everyday words used as trademarks, someone referred to this:

Seattle woman fights lawsuit for selling Coach purses on eBay | KING5.com Seattle

A Seattle woman is fighting a trendy handbag designer who accused her of trademark infringement for selling her used purses online.

Gina Kim is a former Coach Inc. employee and planned to sell several of her used Coach bags online. But soon after posting them on eBay, she received a threatening cease-and-desist letter from a New York law firm representing Coach.

In the letter, Kim was accused of trademark infringement and threatened with a $2 million lawsuit. The letter also demanded Kim surrender all her merchandise, never sell any of it again, admit guilt and send a $300 check to Coach.

The problem is, such bullying tactics do not seem to be at all unusual. In other countries there are usually Law Societies that discipline lawyers who engage in unethical practices. But American lawyers seem to do it with impunity.

If this were just an isolated incident, one could say that it was an aberration. You always find a couple of bad apples in the sack. But then I recalled the case of the Brewer brothers and their takeover of the SPCK Bookshops in the UK, and their use of lawyers to bully and intimidate anyone who questioned their unethical (and illegal) business practices. Well, they may have been legal in Texas, but they certainly weren’t in Britain. Cease and Desist: One Year On | SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a date permanently etched in my memory, it’s a date I certainly won’t forget in a hurry: it’s the date J Mark ‘Bully Boy’ Brewer (shown right, screen grab from Fox News), Principal of Texas law firm, attorneys and counselors, Brewer and Pritchard PC, issued the first of his now notorious ‘Cease and Desist’ messages, threatening me, my friends and my colleagues with legal action if we didn’t stop reporting on his abuse of his staff and his mismanagement of the former SPCK bookshops.

If that weren’t bad enough, I caught part of an interview of a British judge on Sky News. They were asking him about whether Gaddafi, if captured, should face trial locally in Libya or before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The judge said that an ICC trial would be better, because Libya has no independent judiciary and it would take some time to establish one, and so Gaddafi would not face a fair trial in Libya.

He said that there had been the same problem in Iraq eight years ago, where he had been one of those who had taken part in training Iraqi judges in the basic principles of justice.

When it came to the trial of Saddam Hussein, however, the biggest problem was the Americans, who did not want Saddam Hussein tried before the ICC because they would not impose a death sentence. And so he was tried by Iraqi courts, but when the British-trained judges questioned unjust legal practices, they were sacked.

There seems to be quite a big cultural gap, at least, between British and American conceptions of justice. Things that Americans seem to regard as normal inspire anger and revulsion in British people. That is not to say that there are no miscarriages of justice in Britain. There are. But they are not recognised as a normal part of the legal process.

And then comes the last straw: Libya: Scottish Officials Try To Contact Al-Megrahi In Tripoli As Unrest Spreads | UK News | Sky News:

Scottish officials are continuing urgent efforts to contact the Lockerbie bomber, amid the changing situation in Tripoli.

Under the terms of his compassionate release from Greenock Prison two years ago, Abdel Basset al Megrahi has been routinely checked upon by officials from East Renfrewshire Council…

Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora in the Lockerbie bombing, believes Megrahi was wrongly convicted and is concerned he could come to harm.

He told Sky News: “I think he might well be assassinated by whoever takes over the part of Tripoli he’s in.

“I believe he could also be handed over to the Americans, or abducted by them.”

And it appears that US politicians are already demanding that al Megrahi be handed over to them. But should anyone be handed over to a nation that has such a corrupt legal system and no conception of civilised justice, but only of tribal vengeance and the blood feud, as is shown by the bullying tactics routinely adopted by its lawyers?

Americans love to criticise Sharia law as being barbarous — but can they demonstrate that their own legal system is any better?

Jon Venables: the penalty for murder

On Friday Sky News was full of a story about Jon Venables, who, as a child of 10, with a friend, Robert Thompson, murdered a younger child. The point of the story was never clear, but they had the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying that the justice system must take its course and that he would not interfere. It seemed that Jon Venables, now 27, had been releaced from prison and given another identity, and then was back in prison after committing another offence, and that some people were demanding details of his new identity and offence.

They kept showing the pictures of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and I thought that Robert Thompson looked like a bit of a thug, the kind of kid I would have been scared of if I had been at school with him, while Jon Venables looked quite a sweet kid, miscievious perhaps, but not malicious. But appearances can be deceptive.

But this kind of story raises all sorts of issues that do not appear on the surface, and some of them are brought out in this post by Poliphilo Eroticdreambattle – Jon Venables:

The authorities may be desperate to keep Jon Venables’ identity a secret, but the man himself seems to have been trying- even more desperately- to out himself. The story that’s seeping through the official firewall reveals a haunted, young man- often the worse for booze and drugs- who has been buttonholing strangers and workmates and confiding his horrible secret to them- and then getting into fights when they reject him. We all find it difficult to live alone with our secret selves; how much more terrible when the secret self is a notorious murderer. Venables is not a psychopathic monster. A psychopathic monster doesn’t reach out for acceptance and understanding. A psychopathic monster is sufficient unto himself and lives easily in his own skin.

And later Poliphilo says, in response to a comment:

Our society has decided that there is something sacred and untouchable about victimhood – and that the vengeful bitterness of people like Denise Fergus [the murdered child’s mother] is never to be challenged.

In South Africa we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for people who committed cruel murders for political reasons, but what do you do when people do such things just for kicks? That is the theme of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and punishment, where the protagonist planned and carried out a murder just for kicks. And then in spite of himself he began to be plagued by feelings of guilt, and the need to confess. From Poliphilo’s account it seems that something similar has happened to Jon Venables. But what does society, and the law, do with people like this?

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