Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pay to claim your innocence

While I understand the need to give misbehaving people a slap on the wrist for antisocial behaviour (i.e. behaviour that inconveniences the majority, whether blocking the road by thoughtless parking or dropping litter), and I understand the cost argument of traditional justice. I have nevertheless always objected strongly to fixed penalties. I feel that the moment we accepted a system that punished without a proper legal redress through the courts we broke the most fundamental traditional protections and assumptions of the legal system of the country. Such charges should be recognised as (and I believe they are) illegal.

But the authorities are now talking about the next step, and that is many times worse. Under the discussion draft of the provisions of the pro-copyright/anti online piracy legislation Ofcom want to establish a ‘3 strikes’ warning principle. Copyright owners will complain to the ISP when they suspect user piracy, ISPs then after 3 strikes ISPs will pass details of the user back to the copyright holders. 

But then the sting! Anyone accused of piracy who feels they have been wrongly accused, and that of course includes everyone who is innocent, will have to pay a fee inorder to appeal. 

Irrespective of what I think about the myriad abuses of copyright laws by the media companies and the malevolent behaviour of the copyright industry in general this completely destroys any concept of justice. That someone can be accused, considered guilty, and have to pay a fee to appeal the accusation is absolutely intolerable. As always I believe the offender should pay. If guilty the offender pays a penalty, if innocent the accuser pays the appeal – that’s their penalty for making a false accusation. 

Given the bullying tactics of the copyright industry it’s even worse in this issue than it might otherwise have been. We know exactly what else would then happen, lots of fat cat salaries paid to appeal panellists paid for from the appeals fees of the innocent. It’s a recipe for authoritarian control in addition to a breach of the fundamental principle of justice.

I suspect this is ‘kite flying’, the government are trying out the idea and that if accepted the fee principle can later be applied to other fixed penalty notices, like traffic and parking fixed penalties. But whatever the motive this has to be fought.

(edited to correct my missing n in the title)


  1. "That someone can be accused, considered guilty, and have to pay a fee to appeal the accusation is absolutely intolerable."

    It is.

    We seem to be creeping towards a presumption of guilt for all kinds of minor offences.

  2. Yes we are AK. They nibbled at this with the original fixed penalties, allowing a reduced payment for fast payment - but of course preventing you from obtaining the reduced charge if you appealed. You could argue that the innocent have nothing to fear, but it is defintely an incentive to admit fault.