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JP Floru: Defending civil liberties is not the same as setting criminals free

By JP Floru

This morning the BBC was at it again.  Always on the lookout for Tory/Coalition Splits, today’s closure of three prisons was used by BBC journalists to rake up perceived squabbles between Tory Modernisers and Tory Traditionalists.

It's time to put something right here.  A fair number of those of us who feel strongly about our traditional civil liberties (such as fair trial, trial by jury, rights of the defendants, habeas corpus etc.) do NOT want to see criminals on the loose. 

According to John Locke it was to protect our property (that is, the ownership of our own person and of the fruits of our labour), that individuals contracted into the state in the first place.  The first (and some would say the only) reason for the state to exist is to protect property.  Limits on government powers protect the individual  against the greatest criminal of all: arbitrary government.  Civil rights in criminal sphere protect individuals against false accusations and arbitrary rulings.

So philosophically there is no divide between Law and Order Tories and Civil Libertarians.  If there is one thing about which all Tories can agree, it is that the state is there to protect property in the Lockean sense.   This does not mean, of course, that the state needs to actually run prisons or monopolise the judiciary – there is wide scope for outsourced prisons and private arbitration.  What it needs to do is to set the framework and to ensure that this framework is enforced – either directly by the state or independently.

It is when the state apparatus abrogates this prime reason of its very existence that Tories can be remarkably united in their condemnation.  If criminals are set loose prematurely I see not many reasons for the existence of the state itself.


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