Stuff and nonsense

by Chris Bertram on June 23, 2006

Just back from going to hear Tony Blair give “a speech”: on the criminal justice system. It was the usual stuff about “rebalancing” the system in favour of the victim, with a lot of noise about the need for “fundamental debate” on principles but no actual discussion of said fundamentals. An important rheorical subtext in the speech was Blair-as-outsider, pitted against the “legal and political establishment”, which is a bit much coming from a legal professional from Derry Irvine’s chambers who has been Prime Minister for the past nine years! There was also a heap of cod sociology, reminiscent of “Henry’s post the other day”: , about how we once lived in nice cosy communities but that this stable order has been swept away by globalisation to be replaced by anomie etc. Blair spoke as if he intends to go on and on, which will be bad news for Gordon Brown if true (but maybe PMs always talk like this).

There was an uncomfortable amount of attention to immigration and asylum seeking in the speech, including this:

bq. Here is the point. Each time someone is the victim of ASB, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else’s liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society.

I’m quite puzzled by why Blair thinks that the mere entry of an illegal immigrant amounts to a contravention of someone’s liberty.



Scott Martens 06.23.06 at 9:42 am

What an awful speech. Shorter Tony Blair:

The criminal justice system is drowned in bureaucracy, sweeping inflexible rules, arbitrary and ineffective outcomes and a lack of concern for victims. We will fix these problems by building a larger bureaucracy with more rules in order to focus more attention on offenders, to intervene more obtrusively in people’s lives, to give more of them the same prison sentences that we recognize don’t work now, and to provide more inflexible and arbitrary treatment of immigrant offenders.


Steven Poole 06.23.06 at 9:47 am

I would say that there is in fact no such thing as a time that “an illegal immigrant enters the country”. A human being (not ipso facto “illegal”) enters the country, and until such time as his or her application to stay (on grounds of asylum or anything else) is refused by legal process, or it is otherwise shown that he or she has no legal right to be there, he or she should not be called an “illegal immigrant” at all. The label simply panders to xenophobic resentment, as with other labels such as “failed asylum seeker” (the moral failure is theirs), “foreign criminals” (who are, qua foreign, much more frightening than home-grown criminals), etc.


Seth Gordon 06.23.06 at 10:12 am

Didn’t J. S. Mill, in On Liberty, defend the right of Anglo-Saxon gentlemen to walk around on the street without seeing swarthy people about? Or was that someone else?


jet 06.23.06 at 10:19 am

Steven Poole,
And peopler don’t get “old”, they are just “age challenged”? There is no reason to stop using a valuable collocation simply because it carries a negative conotation. Perhaps ax murderers should be called “target challenged lumberjacks? Or perhaps “illegal immigrants” can be called “persons residing in a country who have yet to have their legal resident status validated”?


duncan 06.23.06 at 10:40 am


I think you missed the word ‘until’ in Steven Poole’s post.


Anderson 06.23.06 at 11:22 am

I’m quite puzzled by why Blair thinks that the mere entry of an illegal immigrant amounts to a contravention of someone’s liberty.

It contravenes my right to be crowded in the Tube only by citizens and legal immigrants?


Matt 06.23.06 at 11:24 am

I’m fairly sympathetic with the idea your message, and can’t say what the law is in the UK, but in the US if you “enter without inspection” (i.e.- do not present yourself at an authorized border crossing) as do most illegal immigrants than one is already an illegal immigrant even if a form of relief might be avaliable. So, in the US at least, it is legally speaking quite proper to think that there are illegal immigrants before the “until” in your message. I’m with Chris, though, in saying that it’s far from clear how the enterence of an illegal immigrant in itself can be thought to violate anyone’s liberty.


John 06.23.06 at 11:36 am

It’s interesting that the “law and order” pitch is always made without any reference to facts. The prison population may be at an all time high and crime may actually be falling but that’s irrelevant in the Manichaean world of overly squeamish High Court judges versus that realistic council estate dweller Tony Blair.

The rhetoric is quite clever in its way. Once upon a time ASB, drug crime etc etc would all have been blamed on Jews or Blacks now it’s an apparently more acceptable target. The goal is the same though; to legitimise even greater concentration of power in the hands of police, politicians and bureaucrats. Almost worthy of Baldrick!


Uncle Kvetch 06.23.06 at 11:37 am

Likewise, if “drug related crimes” include other people putting substances into their bodies that the PM disapproves of, it’s stretch to see how anyone else’s “liberties are contravened” as a result.

Must be the same logic that dictates that Rick Santorum’s marriage will instantly become meaningless if my partner and I were permitted to tie the knot.


Shelby 06.23.06 at 11:52 am


What about those who never apply to stay, and so are never rejected?

Uncle K:

Those of us who loathe Rick Santorum honor the sacrifice you propose.


Daniel 06.23.06 at 11:56 am

you guys are missing the phrase:

often directly, sometimes as part of wider society

under Blair’s theory of society, it is in fact possible for us all to be harmed even though no specific individual has been. This is, I think, the last remaining touch of Amitai Etzioni in him.


finnsense 06.23.06 at 1:13 pm

I’m no fan of Blair but I think we’re missing the point here. His point is to reclaim the term liberty from people who only like to use it in its most restricted sense. He is saying that liberty can be increased as well as restricted by state intervention and that yes, the loss or curtailment of certain civil liberties can in fact make us more free.

Of course a person living here illegally restricts our liberties in a variety of ways. They take space, resources, housing, sometimes work and so on.


roger 06.23.06 at 1:16 pm

Well, if this is how “society” is going to be used — as an excuse for utterly rebarbative law and order politics — I am going to experience an unexpected nostalgia for Maggie Thatcher’s “there is no society.” Anything is better than Blair’s Uriah Heep-ness.


Cryptic Ned 06.23.06 at 3:43 pm

I would like to know if this article makes any sense. It seems to be written by the world’s most reactionary stick-in-the-mud, but I do think he has a point in that the jail sentences for violent crimes are ludicrously short.

Not that putting someone in jail does any good to society except as a deterrent…but there doesn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent for what he describes.


Brett Bellmore 06.23.06 at 3:44 pm

I suppose illegal immigrants don’t do much to reduce liberty if they just saunter across the border, camp out in the middle of nowhere, and then go back. However, the ones who stick around generall commit such offenses as identity theft, in the course of obtaining fake documents.


Alan Bostick 06.23.06 at 4:58 pm

And why do they need fake documents? Because they are illegal! Would they need fake documents if they weren’t illegal immigrants, if, say, the laws that arbitrarily designated them as illegal weren’t on the books. I rather think not.


Steven Poole 06.23.06 at 6:20 pm

Calling a human being “illegal” before due process of law has determined that any of their actions (rather than their person) is illegal is prejudicial. Speaking of “illegal immigrants” in the abstract plural, as Blair does, is one with the kind of rhetoric that had Blunkett talking about foreigners “swamping” schools etc. It is not quite as bad, perhaps, as “bogus asylum seekers”, but it is on the same track, and clearly has the same kind of Daily Mail-appeasing purpose (substitute your favourite reactionary US newspaper if wished).


Matt 06.23.06 at 6:25 pm

I guess I’d disagree. Under US law someone who enters w/o inspection is an illegal immigrant, even if a form of relief is granted later. It’s a fact of the matter before any process whether one entered at a boarder crossing and presented one’s self for inspection. If you didn’t do this, you are an illegal immigrant even if you later file a successful asylum claim or get some other form of relief. This may sound nasty but it’s just how the law is here. It does show that one can be an illegal immigrant and not hurt anyone, though. We may need some process to determine whether one entered without inspection, but that’s purely an epistemic question, and under US law the burden to show that one presented one’s self for inspection is on the immigrant as well.


Steven Poole 06.23.06 at 6:37 pm

In the UK we have a tradition of presumed innocence, and a legal fact does not exist until determined by a court. Is it otherwise in the US?


Cryptic Ned 06.23.06 at 6:40 pm

I don’t understand your point, Steven Poole. If you immigrate illegally, you’re an illegal immigrant. If you are a person whose only way to immigrate is illegally, then you will be an illegal immigrant at the point when you choose to immigrate.

The word “illegal” doesn’t imply any moral judgment.


soru 06.23.06 at 6:48 pm

A specific named person is innocent until proved guilty, but not a hypothetical person, a representative of a class.

Otherwise you could completely eliminate all crime by sacking all the policemen and judges. If noone was ever proven guilty, everyone would be innocent, consequently noone could have comitted a crime.


Matt 06.23.06 at 7:56 pm

Immigrants in the US have the burden of proving that they have entered at an approved boarder crossing and have presented themselves for inspection. And of course, as I’ve said, if you didn’t do this you’re an illegal immigrant whether anyone every finds out or not.


nick s 06.23.06 at 8:47 pm

However, the ones who stick around generall commit such offenses as identity theft, in the course of obtaining fake documents.

But what if they need them simply in order to buy guns, Brett? Does that make it okay?

And does anyone know if the Daily Mail crew has stopped drinking in establishments with Australian bar staff?


Brett Bellmore 06.24.06 at 10:35 am

Hey, whether they’d need to obtain fake documents if they were here legally is irrelevant to the question of whether, being here illegally, their identity thefts and other allied crimes injure anyone.


Bob B 06.24.06 at 1:21 pm

Anyone for more helpings snake oil?

The current continuing debate in Britain about appropriate punishments for violent crimes is really secondary to the prior and increasingly urgent consideration of actually catching and convicting perpetrators. The facts are:

“An investigation shows that conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have been in freefall since Labour came to power in 1997 and are now well below 10 per cent. The chronically low figures for convictions come at the same time as reports that violent crime is increasing.”,,1784623,00.html

“Ten years after Tony Blair famously pledged that Labour in power would be ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’, an Observer investigation reveals that conviction rates – the percentage of recorded offences that result in a guilty finding in court – have dramatically decreased. Robbers, rapists, other sex offenders and attackers who inflict life-threatening injuries are committing many more crimes, and have become much more likely to get away with them than when Labour was elected in 1997. Of the categories Straw identified, only burglary has fallen. Its conviction rate has increased – by 0.5 per cent.”,,1784692,00.html

“Robberies in England and Wales rose by 11% between July and September last year [2005], with overall violent crime up 4%, Home Office figures show. The rise came after robberies jumped 4% in the previous quarter following the ending of a government scheme to target the problem of street crime. Total recorded crimes fell 1% to 1.37m incidents compared with the same period a year ago, and burglaries were lower.”

“Conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have fallen to below 10% in the years since Labour came to power, while incidences of offences like serious wounding and rape have risen, reported The Observer.

“The paper said that analysis of Home Office figures indicated that only 9.7% of serious woundings reported to police resulted in a conviction, while for robberies the figure is 8.9% and for rape just 5.5%.”,,-5850760,00.html


roger 06.24.06 at 1:50 pm

Soru finally proposes a political policy I can get behind!


Shawn 06.25.06 at 8:41 am

Illegal immigrants violate the liberty of the citizens of the countries they invade by entering illegally in the first place. That on its own is a violation of my rights as a citizen. As a citizen, I pay taxes to live in a nation with at least some peace and order.

The word “illegal” IS a moral judgement, and a good one. Breaking the laws of a country is immoral.


Matt 06.25.06 at 11:34 am

While it’s true that some illegal immigrants damage the “peace and order” of some parts of the country, it’s quite obviously not the case that the mere act of being in a country with out proper documentation is in any meaningful sense a violation of peace and order. And, though I’m guilty of it above as well, it’s worth noting that “illegal immigrant” is a popular but not legal or offical term in the US at least. The legal terms are things like “entered without inspection” or “excludable” or “inadmissable”. People regularly driving over the speed limits certainly do more to damage the safety and order of the country and is a more clearly illegal act, but there’s little outrage over that. Why? Becuase _we_ drive to fast, while it’s those swarthy others who are illegal immigrants.

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