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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Coming back to the piece by Jack of Kent

I said I'd have a bit more to say about Jack of Kent's piece. One thing that I want to emphasise is that I agree with him that the criminal allegations against Assange - the Swedish sex charges - need to be dealt with on their merits. I see no evidence at this stage that that's not happening, and I agree that it's wrong to be calling for the charges to be dropped as if it's, like, transparently obvious that the charges are trumped up, or, in effect, politically-motivated. We don't know anything like enough to draw that conclusion, and I can see no reason at this stage to take to the streets or the press or the blogosphere calling for the charges to be dropped.

In particular, I put very little weight on public statements by lawyers for the various parties involved. Those statements are hardly objective - lawyers are paid to represent the interests of their clients, to put their clients' side of the story, whatever it is, and generally to act (quite properly) as advocates. Within certain boundaries imposed by professional ethics (yes, there is such a thing) they are supposed to be one-eyed about issues where they act as their clients' representatives.

Furthermore, the approach of trial by press releases and press interviews can only produce the most simplified and distorted picture of any legal case. It may be inevitable in such a high-profile case that the lawyers start acting as, in effect, PR representatives, but that doesn't mean that the dueling public comments give anything like the same picture that will come out in court.

We can still comment on the case, of course, but we need to do so carefully, showing a bit of humility about how much we really know the facts. If the full charges, once they are known to us, are ridiculous on their face .. sure, we can say so. But I think that a lot of Assange supporters are simply assuming that they will be in a way that betrays ... if not exactly an element of misogynism at least an element of something approaching it, a certain failure to take the interests of women with adequate seriousness.

That said, Jack of Kent makes some silly comments such as the one about placing the word "crime" in what are ambiguously ordinary quotes or scare quotes. Yes, doing that shows scepticism about whether Assange has really committed a crime, but in itself that kind of scepticism is not necessarily a bad thing in all the circumstances. If the word were used without quotes around it, it really would be prejudging things. Perhaps it's best to say something like "alleged crime", but I think that JoK is actually showing signs of losing objectivity in making a fuss about this point.

Worse is the bit where he quotes Pilger saying: "Catlin describes the Swedish justice system as 'a laughing stock'. For three months, Assange and his lawyers have pleaded with the Swedish authorities to let them see the prosecution case."

Jack of Kent's reply to this is pretty lame: "It would appear that they should perhaps have asked Mr Pilger."

That is not a good reply to a serious issue. Yes, perhaps Pilger has overreached in implying that he knows more than he really does. That point has been made already, earlier in the post. It's not very impressive to make the point again in response to a claim that Assange and his lawyers are not getting timely access to information about the prosecution's case.

Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren't. Perhaps they shouldn't get that kind of detail at this stage of the procedure. There will be statutory rules of some kind governing how the police in Sweden are supposed to act in such circumstances as these - what documentation they are supposed to provide when - and they have either followed the rules or they haven't. There's also a question as to whether Sweden's rules in criminal cases are sufficiently protective of an accused person's interests, compared to those in other jurisdictions or by some more objective standard.

But JoK doesn't deal with any of that at the appropriate point in his post - though it's exactly the sort of thing that we need him for. Instead, he just deflects the point by making a sarcastic comment about Pilger.

Overall, it's useful to have views on this case expressed by Jack of Kent, but he seems to be more invested than I'd really like. He's swinging too far for my comfort in the opposite direction to the mindless cries for Assange simply to go free without due process. I'd like to see a bit more rigour from the blogosphere's most astute observer (that I know about) of the British legal system.

1 comment:

irenedelse said...

Looks like JoK made up his mind on Assange – but without being aware of it. Too bad. Maybe he should refrain from commenting in his capacity as legal blogger, if he can't separate the legal and emotional/political issues.