Awkward, especially here, I know, but there you have it. But, look, if any other high-profile politician were suggesting the burden of proof in criminal trials should be switched from the accuser to the accused we’d be properly – in both senses – appalled.
So we should be appalled that Boris suggests in his Telegraph column today that anyone travelling to Iraq or Syria should be presumed a jihadist unless and until they can prove otherwise. The state will not have to make a case you convict you but you must make a case to avoid conviction.
And, lo, centuries of criminal law are undone. Worse still, I think, Boris considers this ‘a minor change’ to the law. What, one wonders, would constitute a major change? ‘It is hard’ Boris laments, ‘to press charges without evidence’. There should instead be ‘a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.’
So let’s – effectively – introduce internment instead. What a ripping wheeze. What could possibly go wrong?
Mark this, too, a government that followed Boris’s advice is not a government that will ever have any fondness, far less any respect, for the rights of individuals. No corner of your life will be safe from governmental inspection. Sure, not everything leads to a slippery slope but only a dolt fails to recognise that slippery slopes do exist and that governments kinda enjoy playing on them.
Now you may say that it is unfair to judge Boris on the contents of his newspaper column. Everyone writes daft things from time to time; every hack has paragraphs (and sometimes entire columns) they’d like to take back. But it doesn’t matter what most of us think. Most of us have no ambition to become Prime Minister. Boris does and so, I am afraid, his columns – all of them – are fair game. They are a treat for Labour and trawling Boris’s journalism for daft notions he’ll be asked to back or disavow is hardly the toughest gig in politics.
Be that as it may, I am sure Boris’s proposals to incarcerate people in this fashion will be pretty popular. Illiberal proposals usually are.
Few people, I think, object to the idea of monitoring Britons who have travelled to Iraq or Syria for reasons that are, shall we say, mysterious. There is a danger and it is one that has to be confronted.
It can, however, be confronted without reversing the tide of English justice. The state does not lack resources, after all and while a desire to spend time in the charnel houses of Syria and Iraq might reasonably be thought eccentric and even suspicious the ancient principle of innocent until proven guilty is still, on the whole you know, a notion worth preserving.
Lord knows, we suffer enough from ill-conceived and hasty amendments to the law as it is without introducing fresh measures that must, in this instance, inevitably greatly increase the probability of wrongful incarceration.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.