Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

Adolf Glasbrenner’s ‘Constitushun’

February 23, 2014

Looking through the anthology of German literature from the Vormarz, the period of social and industrial discontent in Germany in the early 19th century that produced the 1848 revolutions, I came across Adolf Glasbrenner’s Konschtitution. Glasbrenner (1810-1876) was a radical Berlin journalist and writer. He trained as a merchant, but from 1830 turned to writing as a Liberal. He published the newspaper, the Berliner Don Quixote, which was banned in 1833. In 1835 he moved to Switzerland, where he published a number of works anonymously. In 1848 his Freien Blatter (Free Pages) was banned in Berlin, and he took part in the revolution that March. He became the leader of the Democratic Party of Neustrelitz in the German state of Mecklenburg. He was forced to move to Hamburg in 1850. His newspapers the Deutschen Sonntagszeitung and Phosphor were banned in 1856 and 1858. He had a constant battle with the censor as the manager of the Berliner Montagszeitung. In his works Glasbrenner wrote in the Berlin dialect, using typical figures from Berlin society, such as the casual labourer Nante and the petty-bourgeois rentier, Buffey, to satirise the contemporary political situation, in order to strengthen the popular masses’ trust in themselves, and so help prepare the way for the 1848 revolution.

Konschtitution is written in the Berlin dialect as a father attempting to explain the Prussian constitution to his son. While it’s like the 13 demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee in that both are of their time and place, it also struck me as being relevant to today’s Britain. Both Britain and Wilhelmine Germany are constitutional monarchies, and the same basic concepts of government are common to each, even if there are many differences. The judiciary in Britain still are independent, for example, whether they will continue to be so under this increasingly illiberal and authoritarian government is a good question. Here’s my attempt at a translation:

Constitushun

Today I ‘splained to my son, Willyum, what the constitushun is, dat is, in what you call the ‘high style’, and I fink dat I’ve ‘spressed it quite statesmanlike. I said to ‘im namely. The constitushun, dat’s the separashun of power. The king does, what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants. The ministers are therefore responsible, that nothing happens. The king rules quite irresponsibly. The government choose by means of an electoral law the people’s representatives. It’s necessary dat every law is realized. Every law only then has validity, when it’s realized.

The people’s representatives come together in two chambers and hold speeches. The first chamber consists of rich servants and the second of nightwatchmen. The chambers must be listen to in every case. Should the chamber not be listen to in every case, the crown has the right to dissolve it, but only ever for three months, in case it shouldn’t last longer. In the case that there is continual disunity between Crown and chamber, the old state diet is convoked, which steps through it in the chamber’s complete duties.

The chamber can also grant new taxes. The penalty for refusing tax established by law, should not be under ten years penitentiary. About the people’s monies (finances), everyone must be passed three months in an account, in which receipts and expenses tally. Should several millions be missing annually, these are to be viewed as spent. Should the citizens come to beggary or starve, the king is liable, to explain in a proclamation, that he’s sorry.

Justice is quite independent, but the judges can be transferred or removed. Everyone is equal before the law. Every subject has right to have his opinion about himself, and to assemble under the same conditions. The military do not swear to the state, because you don’t know what expires. The form of the state is monarchic-pulcinelle [a figure from the Italian Commedia del’Arte]. Without junkers [Prussian aristocrats], police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible.

The stupid boy stood there with his gob open, as I ‘splained the Constitushun to him. “Now do you know?” I asked him. “Nah, not quite yet”, he said, howling. That so annoyed me, that in anger I gave him a hard box on the ear., in which I expressed, ‘You prat, now know what the Constitushun is!’

I thought of translating the term ‘Junkers’ in the sentence ‘Without junkers, police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible’ as ‘toffs’ or ‘aristos’, to make it really contemporary, now that we have a government dominated by them, but I thought that would be stretching things a bit too much.

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How can disabled people appeal if not told the assessment result?

July 27, 2013

More evidence of the weird, Kafkaesque world of Atos and the DWP, in which you are not told of the decision against you, in order to prevent you appealing. If the system by which Atos and the DWP judge and deal with disability benefit claimants was applied to the justice system, it would be denounced as a ‘kangaroo court’. Comparisons would be made to Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. As the people being abused in this way are the disabled, and its part of the benefits system, it seems to the media to be perfectly acceptable and of no interest whatsoever.

Benefit tales

2 years ago I was placed in the (disability benefit) Work Related Activity Group without a medical so have to attend job centre every 6 months, my advisor is great and has stated that she is not qualified to over rule my psychiatrist, psychologist or GP so basically we chat for 10-15mins thats it. In late April/early may this year I got the dreaded med form to fill in waited till last minute took all info I could get from what is posted on FB and sent it in, I have been waiting in torture since. This week I had my meetin with my job centre advisor and she asked if I had been for a medical , I said no but told her about the form, she then told me i had been placed in the wrag group again for 2 years, I stated it was bad that they…

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The Lib-Dem’s Introduction of Secret Courts

July 13, 2013

The political blog, Another Angry Voice, has this piece about legislation by the Lib-Dems introducing secret courts into Britain:

Secret Courts: The Very Illiberal Democrats

On the 4th of March 2013 the majority of Lib Dem MPs sided with the Tory government to shoot down two last minute amendments to the Justice and Security (Secret Courts) Bill.

For those of you that don’t know about what the Tory “Secret Courts” bill entails, here’s a brief description: As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, but will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared “special advocate”.

The full article can be read here: http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/secret-courts-very-illiberal-democrats.html

This is a violation of Magna Carta and a return to regime of the 15th and 16th Star Chamber that was used to degrade, disgrace and punish members of the aristocracy.

The Star Chamber Court

The Court of Star Chamber is the name given to the King’s Council, from the chamber in which it sat. When it sat as a court, it was held in a chamber in Westminster Palace decorated with a blue ceiling with stars. It is not to be confused with the court that enforce laws against the maintenance of private armies by the aristocracy, corrupt juries and rioting, which a sixteenth century clerk described as ‘pro camera stellata’ in the provisions for it in the statute book.

The court of Star Chamber was not an exclusive criminal court. Half of the business it dealt with were civil cases. It could, however, proceed unimpeded by the restrictions on other law courts. For example, it could try cases in secret and without a jury. The cases it tried came from private petitions brought by aggravated suitors. In contrast to its notorious reputation, it only levied moderate fines. Those convicted by the court were only jailed until they paid them. Nevertheless, it was bitterly resented by the aristocracy, who complained:

‘There were very few persons of quality who had not suffered or been perplexed by the weight or fear’ from the censures and judgements’ of the Star Chamber Court. They bitterly resented this attack on their personal honour, and felt it degraded them to the level of the ordinary Englishman. They complained that

‘persons of honour and great quality … were every day cited in the High Commission Court, upon the fame of their incontinence, or other scandal in their lives, and were there prosecuted to their shame and punishment … (which they called an insolent triumph upon their degree and quality, and levelling them with the common people …’.

It was one of the causes of the disaffection with Charles I’s reign that resulted in the outbreak of the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms. Another cause was the increasing tax burden that fell on the peasantry, urban artisans and the ‘middling sort’, from which the aristocracy were exempt.

Magna Carta

Several of the most celebrated and famous passages in the Magna Carta, wrung out of king John by the barons at Runnymede, are for the effective provision of justice against its abuse by royal power. Chapter 39 expressed the basic foundation of the rule of law:

‘No freeman shall be arrested, or kept in prison or disseised (of his freehold) or outlawed or banished, or in any way brought to ruin – and we will not act against him or send others against bhim -unless by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land’.

Chapter 40 promises that

‘To none will we sell, refuse, or delay right or justice’.

This was in response to the complaint that it cost too much to secure a writ from the king, who in any case accepted gifts and bribes to speed or delay court cases. Chapter 20 also contains the provision that fines will be of a reasonable size, and not be so great as to deprive men of their livelihood.

The Magna Carta has been for centuries the outstanding symbol of English justice, and the baron’s victory over John at Runnymede a shining illustration of the ‘Commune of England’, in which ‘every man has his own opinion’, as one Anglo-Norman baron put it. In actual fact Magna Carta is much less impressive when examined critically. Most of its clauses are to secure the privileges of the aristocracy, rather than the establishment of anything like democracy. When these do occur, they are so vague and interpretation that no two people could necessarily agree on what they actually mean. They contain no penalties, nor means of enforcement. Nevertheless, they were seen at the time and by future monarchs as the foundation of traditional English liberties. It was repeatedly reissued by monarchs such as John’s son, Henry III.

Regardless of whether or not Magna Carta is an effective guarantee of English freedom, it was one of the major foundations of British constitutional government. The legislation introduce by Lib-Dems that allows for secret trials overturns these principles and threatens to return Britain to the days of the Star Chambers. The only difference this time will be that it is the poor, rather than the aristocracy and the wealthy, who are ground under foot.

Sources

Sinclair Atkins, England and Wales under the Tudors (Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton 1975).

Frank Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216, 4th Edition, (London: Longman 1988)

Brian Manning, ‘The Aristocracy and the Downfall of Charles I’, in W.R. Owens (ed.), Seventeenth Century England: A Changing Culture. Two volumes. Volume 2: Modern Studies (London: Ward Lock Eductation/ The Open University Press 1980) 109-18.

The Death Toll from Benefit Cuts: The DWP Blocks Attempts to Find the True Numbers

July 13, 2013

My brother, over on Vox Political, has been fighting a campaign with others to get the Department of Work and Pensions to release the figures of the number of people, who have committed suicide as a result of their Disability Payments being cut or stopped altogether. See the pages linked below:

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/call-for-evidence-on-work-capability-assessment-my-submission/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/dwp-falsehoods-lets-get-some-questions-answered/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/will-the-dwp-do-anything-to-avoid-revealing-the-true-extent-of-the-atos-deaths/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/dwp-obstruction-over-atos-deaths-a-plea-for-sanity/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/stop-collecting-death-stats-if-you-like-dwp-its-what-youve-got-already-that-we-want-to-see/

The Department has repeatedly turned down requests to release the statistics. They first refused to release them as the request came from a single person, and was therefore a ‘one-off’, which would require too much work to justify answering the request. When my brother put in another request for the same information, and encouraged the readers of his blog to do the same, the DWP turned it down because it was ‘vexatious’ and ‘harassing them’.

Courteous requests for information, as provided by law, is not harassment. Abuse, physical threats and obscene or disgusting objects sent through the post, to which employees of the Tax Office and the other welfare agencies have often been subjected, is harassment. The DWP’s stark refusal to release the information is also an affront to British traditions of open government.

The Enlightenment and Open Government

One of the great achievements of the 18th century Enlightenment was the idea of open, transparent government. It is what has made British and American democracy so great. Not only is the voting public entitled to know the content of the laws, they are also able, through government White papers and other publications, know the reasons why such legislation has been passed. As a result, the public is able to criticise such legislation, and decide for itself whether such legislation is appropriate.

Public Transparency and the Architecture of Annapolis

The idea that justice and government should be open to public view and inspection is built into the very fabric of our historic architecture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, court room doors were opened during trials to show that not only was justice being done, it was seen to be done. A few decades ago there was a big archaeological project excavating and reconstructing 18th century Annapolis in Maryland. Not only did the archaeologists examine its material remains, including standing buildings, they also looked at architects’ plans, and the private letters and papers of its founders and citizens in order to reconstruct the ideas that governed its construction and layout. They concluded that the great Georgian buildings and streets of this great American city had been constructed in accordance with Enlightenment principles of transparency and openness. Buildings were deliberately built so that the activities of the people within them could be plainly seen. It was felt that darkness, obscurity and concealment provided cover for immoral and criminal activities. Thus, as far as possible, buildings were constructed to be as open as possible. The large panes of glass and windows in Georgian buildings were deliberately put in, not only to give their occupants the maximum amount of light, but also to allow people outside to see what they were doing, and check that it was honest and correct.

DWP Statistics Not Connected to National Security, Should Be Released

Of course there are things, chiefly relating to national security, which governments should keep secret. The statistics on the number of deaths through benefit cuts are not one of them. The only dangers these statistics represent it to the continued application of the policy, and the careers of the ministers involved. And these clearly are no reasons for their suppression.

I therefore hope and demand that such statistics become involve available, and look forward to the government releasing them.

Calvin and Social Justice

May 4, 2009

One of the most interesting aspects of Calvin’s ideas is his view on the nature of politics and the best form of government. I’ve discussed in previous blog posts about Christianity and the origins of democracy the comparatively democratic nature of Calvin’s Geneva and the influence this had in the development of European and American democracy. I’ve done a little bit more reading since then, and feel that there is some more that could be said. In his consideration of the nature of politics and the forms of government and the state, Calvin believed that every nation should be free to create for itself the form of government that best suited it, and considered that it was a sign of God’s grace and benevolence that different nations had different forms of government. Nevertheless, he believed that good government should be based on Christian moral foundations, and caritas, love. He also felt that it should acknowledge human equality in the sense that it recognised that everyone had an innate value and that those in authority were tempted to abuse their positions. After his return to Geneva in 1541, the Small Council formed a committee to draw up a constitution for the church, which introduced greater lay participation in church government. When dealing with disputes within the church, he insisted on treating and punishing everyone similarly, regardless of their wealth or fame. He also felt that everyone, even the poorest, should be able to call on the law and the magistrates to act against injustice against them, as civil magistrates had been appointed by God for humanity’s benefit and the just defence of their interests.

He also did not believe in hereditary monarchy, as he felt that, because of their elevated personal status, kings felt themselves separate and above the rest of humanity. Furthermore, as only they possessed political power, they had extreme difficulty restraining themselves and acting only for justice. He considered the best form of government to be a mixture of aristocracy and democracy, as it was safer for a number of people to rule rather than a single individual. When government was held by a group, the various people composing it could act to help, instruct and admonish each other, and, if one person was tempted to abuse their power, they could be held back by the others. However, Calvin nevertheless recognised, following St. Paul, that the kingdom of God did not reside in human laws and institutions. 1

He also attempted through his preaching to promote a more ethical society where the poor would not be exploited and deprived of their property by the wealthier members of society. He was extremely critical of the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and felt that many of them had gained their wealth at the expense of their poorer citizens. In these instances, believers should assist the poor while being wary of committing any wrong themselves. He felt that believers should not only not steal or exploit others themselves, but should act when they saw others being treated unjustly, as if they failed to act against injustice and oppression, they became implicated in them. Thus, Calvin stated that

‘(L)et none of us think that it is only lawful for us to guard what we have, rather, as the principle of charity exhorts us, let us see that we preserve and procure our neighbor’s property as much as our … (and) that we should always aspire towards that celestial heritage, knowing that therein we shall possess the fullness of all goods in perfection’. 2

Thus, while it took many centuries for modern democracy to emerge in Europe and America, Calvin’s Geneva was a strong influence in the development of democratic ideas through Calvin’s belief in the human equality before God, his belief that the best form of government was a mixture of democracy and aristocracy, rather than monarchy, and his concern to protect the interests and property of the poor against exploitation by the wealthy, ideals that continue to be expressed and influence contemporary views and discussion of the nature of democracy, even if the influence of Calvin, along with other political theorists and philosophers, is not always recognised.

1. See William R. Stevenson, JR., ‘Calvin and Political Issues’ in Donald K. McKim, ed., The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), pp. 179-80.

2. Benjamin W. Farley, ed. and trans., John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments (Grand Rapids, Baker 1980), pp. 200-1, cited in D. Devries, ‘Calvin’s Preaching’, in Donald K. McKim, The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (Cambridge, CUP 2004), p. 116.