Friday, 30 May 2008

Support from Kirkcaldy Central Councillor

Liberal Democrat councillor for Kirkcaldy Central, Alice Soper, has written to us indicating a large measure of agreement with the campaign.

In her letter, she writes, "I totally agree with your concerns about the proliferation of cameras, not only because they invade privacy but also because of the way these are monitored. ... I do not agree with their widespread use in all public areas."

However, she demures that they "may be useful in some situations, eg where there is a known problem with anti-social behaviour and where the camera can identify the culprits for prosecution. ... In one current situation, I have agreed to a mobile camera being used to identify and provide evidence against some young miscreants, who have been alarming residents for years. Similarly, I agreed to this camera being used to identify another group of young people who were threatening elderly people to buy them alcohol at local shops. So. basically I believe it is a 'final resort' when all else has failed, where there are issues such as these involved."

All else being equal, we would encourage you to vote for champions for personal privacy such as Cllr. Soper, who are willing to take a stand and say that they so not agree with the widespread use of CCTV in public areas.

That said, and although not conversant with the full facts of the two cases mentioned, I would suggest that perhaps a more personal approach would run less risk of alienating the young people involved. Who are the young people's parents, what are their dependencies, what level of personal discipline is their in their homes, why aren't they in school? If we expect them to act as dignified and law-abiding members of the community it must be better to find a punishment that upholds their dignity as citizens and persons, rather than eroding it.

We cannot expect them to become forgiving members of society that keep no record of wrongs, if we keep a record of their misdemeanours in perpetuity. A short, sharp punishment, that the miscreant can move on from, changed, must be the better option.

And we must not lose the ability to judge character and deal with people on a human level. Remember that courts in this country were handing out - largely - fair judgements for centuries before CCTV. You cross-examine witnesses, look for contradictions in their evidence, you invite character witnesses to speak for or against the defendant and prosecuting party.

The trial in 1765 of Joseph Barretti is one of the best examples of this. A distinguished lexicographer, he stumbled into the wrong area of London one night - he was nearly blind at this time - and was propositioned in a lewd manner by a prostitute who he slapped. Seeing a foreigner raise a hand to a woman, a mob gathered round him and worried him and as he was running for his life, he struck out at a man with a short knife he had been carrying - then permitted. The Welshman fell, mortally wounded.

Barretti was given shelter in a nearby house, with the mob demanding he be released.

The trial was entirely reliant and witness statements. In it, a number of leading members of society were able to stand up for the pacifistic and public spirited character of the defendant. He refused to have six Italians on the jury, though he was owned of this right. Gradually the contradictions in the prosecuting party's position began to be confronted, and Barretti himself, despite the hostile feeling against him, was acquitted. This quiet man continued in the country until his death, a loyal British citizen.

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