Today I need to defend a person I do not much like. I will explain why I do not like him in a moment, but that is not the important bit.
What matters is this: if the Government can just reach out and ruin a mans life, without any need of a fair hearing or a guilty verdict, then we do not live in a free country. This is what has just happened to the video blogger Graham Phillips.
The danger is that, because Mr Phillips is so hard to like, the Government will get away with it. And then, when it uses the same powers on somebody else, it will be too late to protest.
As the great US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said: The safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.
What matters is this: if the Government can just reach out and ruin a mans life, without any need of a fair hearing or a guilty verdict, then we do not live in a free country. This is what has just happened to the video blogger Graham Phillips +1 View gallery What matters is this: if the Government can just reach out and ruin a mans life, without any need of a fair hearing or a guilty verdict, then we do not live in a free country. This is what has just happened to the video blogger Graham Phillips
Some of Mr Phillipss activities have been questionable, though he firmly denies many of the charges against him. For me, his worst action was his cruel and stupid questioning of a badly wounded Ukrainian prisoner of war. Others have condemned his interview of Aiden Aslin, a British citizen who had been fighting with Ukrainian armed forces and was captured by the Russians.
It has been suggested that the interview was a breach of the Geneva Conventions. Mr Phillips, contacted in Lugansk, says Mr Aslin asked for the interview himself, has never complained, and has given several other interviews since.
Be that as it may, last week Mr Phillips was placed on the UK Governments sanctions list. The Foreign Office, which is in charge of this process, no longer answers the phone, and replies only once to emails, with bland official statements, so I do not have some of the details that I would like to have.
But as far as I know, he is the first British citizen to be treated in this way. His assets have been frozen. His bank accounts are blocked. He also cannot pay those to whom he owes money.
Some of Mr Phillipss activities have been questionable, though he firmly denies many of the charges against him. For me, his worst action was his cruel and stupid questioning of a badly wounded Ukrainian prisoner of war, writes Peter Hitchens (pictured) Some of Mr Phillipss activities have been questionable, though he firmly denies many of the charges against him. For me, his worst action was his cruel and stupid questioning of a badly wounded Ukrainian prisoner of war, writes Peter Hitchens (pictured)
For example, his home insurance has now been cancelled because his insurers are forbidden to accept his premiums. All his bills will now bounce, the utilities at his London home will soon be cut off. He cannot even pay his council tax. He will face incessant claims for debts, which he can do nothing about.
As he says: How can I pay these debts when I dont have access to funds? If it goes to court, how can I defend myself when I wont be able to pay for legal representation? Actually, how will I even find the money to travel to the court without money, or even feed myself? Franz Kafka, the great Czech author of The Trial, a classic about oppression, could not have invented a legal mantrap as inescapable as this.
Leading British lawyers have accurately described the objects of this action as prisoners of the state. Very well, you may say, this is how we must act against money-launderers and terrorists abroad.
You might equally well say that such powers could be used against officials of the Russian government, or officers in the Syrian Army. And if you look at the list of people treated in this way under the Sanctions and Money Laundering Act of 2018, that is who you will find.
Of course, none of these people is a former UK civil servant with a British passport, as Mr Phillips is. As long as they stay out of our reach, the sanctions are just an inconvenience to most of those placed under them.
But for Mr Phillips, they mean actual ruin. Whatever you think of him, is this a proper use of state power? Is it allowed by Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights, let alone by the human rights the Foreign Office claims to be so fond of?
The official declaration says Mr Phillips is being sanctioned because he is a video blogger who has produced and published media content that supports and promotes actions and policies which destabilise Ukraine and undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or independence of Ukraine.
Well, so what? None of these actions is or ought to be a crime under British law. These are catch-all charges, of the sort Stalin used in his show trials in the 1930s. Any protest against or criticism of a foreign state (or our own) could be said to do these things.
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Britain is not, in fact, at war with Russia. So there is no legal duty on any of us to support that war or refrain from saying things which upset the Kiev government.
This is the dictatorial use of arbitrary power by the State against an individual it does not like. It is a straightforward outrage against the rule of law. If the Government gets away with it, who will be next?
If we do not protest against it now, and stop it, then we should shut up forever about being a free country or fighting for freedom elsewhere.
Knotty political problem of ties Why should it be Right-wing to wear a tie? A vast row has broken out in the French parliament about the wearing of this odd garment, wildly expensive, inclined to dangle into your food and impossible to clean afterwards.
Conservatives say they must be worn. Leftists refuse. Witty female MPs have responded by adopting ties themselves.
Actually, they look better on women than they do on men. Though that is not difficult.
Let the word appeaser rest in peace We love to hate appeasement, dont we? If anyone suggests we try to make peace in Ukraine (as I do), he is immediately denounced as an appeaser. But what did the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble do, except help appease the IRA?
On his death last week, he was much praised. But in a slightly different universe, he would have been scorned. One mans peacemaker is another mans appeaser, and vice-versa. Why, even Winston Churchill appeased Stalin at Yalta, handing Eastern Europe over to him.
I think it is time we gave this worn-out word a decent burial.
TV cameras will damage justice One of my weirdest reporting assignments was the Bobbitt case, in which Mrs Lorena Bobbitt cut off the manhood of her husband, John. As this happened just outside Washington DC, where I was then working, I had to attend the trials of both of them hers for the grisly act, his for marital sexual assault.
Hers was televised. His because it was for a sexual crime was not. Both, as it happened, were acquitted. But the contrast between the two trials was huge. In the televised one, everyone was keenly aware of the vast audience outside the courtroom and, in my view, influenced by it.
Television has done dreadful damage to Parliament, with ghastly organised barracking and fake outrage all the time. It will do even more damage to criminal justice. Juries are bound to be influenced by TV cameras, as are judges and lawyers. The experiment with televising courts should end now.