Welcome Henry Porter

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
21 October 2008

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): CiF has launched a new Henry Porter blog. It opens with a post on  Ken Macdonald's valedictory lecture as the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions. He warns, and he should know, "we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it". I'm going to reproduce the whole of the section on Terror because it is so strong and well said.

But first, two things about the speech and one about Henry P. I'm struck that Macdonald says we should imagine the world we are creating. oD is about to run an article by Tom Nairn on globalisation that discusses the power and importance of imagination. Macdonald uses it in a matter of fact way, and this is right. It is a critical aspect of our politics and culture, and an explosive one to be treated with respect.

Second, the speech is a must read simply because it is so clear and so well set out. It tells us the history of the development of an independent public prosecution service. I read the papers a lot but I never understood what had been done, or why. A really profound change in our constitution took place with no effective public debate. Once again our parliamentary system and its attendent media has proved cretinous. You don't read speeches like this from our politicians either. This one is about saying clearly what is meant, setting out a case and how it came about. It's not a seeking for influence with the tabloids, or full of windy rhetoric or tortured positioning laced with pseudo-show-off references.

Now for Henry - our most consistent critic of the world that Macdonald warns us against and which is being created (imagined and implemented) as we blog. He is now adding to his Observer columns this new, regular on-line service. Also we are working with him and others on a project to bring everyone together in the new year - to debate all the implications of liberty in the modern context as our fundamental rights and freedoms are threatened; perhaps, if the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions is right, irreversibly.   


As I near my conclusion, let me, in my final public speech as DPP, repeat my call for level headedness and for legislative restraint in an age of very dangerous movements.

We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom's back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security State.

Over the last thirty years technology has given each of us, as individual citizens, enormous gifts of access to information and knowledge. Sometimes it seems as if everything in the world is at our fingertips and this doubtless has made our lives immeasurably richer.

But technology also gives the State enormous powers of access to knowledge and information about each one of us. And the ability to collect and store it at will. Every second of every day, in everything we do.

Of course modern technology is of critical importance to the struggle against serious crime and, used wisely, it can and will protect us.

But we need to understand that it is in the nature of State power that decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the State may use these powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible. They will be with us forever. And they in turn will be built upon.

So we should take very great care to imagine the world we are creating before we build it. We might end up living with something we can't bear.

Of course our country faces very significant risks.

And I have enormous admiration for all those in the police and in the security and intelligence services who work with such energy and verve to combat those risks.

The prosecutors in my Counter Terrorism Division have similarly distinguished themselves time and again since we set it up it three years ago.

I've not forgotten, indeed it is salutary to remember, that when I took up my appointment five years ago, some people questioned my suitability on the grounds that I had, in my career at the Bar, defended terrorists of almost every hue.

Of course I was not ashamed of this. Indeed I was very proud of it. Defence lawyers must never judge their clients and there is no hierarchy of righteousness in criminal advocacy.

But I made clear, nevertheless, that my period as Director of Public Prosecutions would be accompanied by a relentless prosecutorial struggle against terrorism. And so it has been.

From the start that struggle has been absolutely grounded in due process and pursued with full respect for our historical norms and for our liberal constitution. We have not feared fairness.

We all know that this has worked. Our conviction rate is in excess of 90%- unmatched in the fair trial world. We have a guilty plea rate of over 40%.

So we have been absolutely right to resist, whenever they have been suggested, special courts, vetted judges and all the other paraphernalia of paranoia.

Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model.

You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.

Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions rather than to degrade them.

It is difficult to see who will maintain a cool head if governments don't. Or who will protect our Constitution if governments unwittingly disarm it.

The response to terror is multi-layered. It has to be that way.

In some contexts it is dealt with geopolitically, by engaging relations between sovereign states.

In others it is disrupted by intelligence and by other interventions. In still others the response must plainly be military.

But on the streets of our country, violent law breaking is dealt with as crime. It is taken through the courts as crime and it is confronted with in accordance with our Constitution.

In all the debates that have raged back and forth, Britain has been absolutely right, and our government has been absolutely right, to hold fast to this course.

We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.

As I say, the response to terror is multi-layered. But it should not include surrender.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData