• Robin Horsfall

When the law loses legitimacy law and order breaks down.


When the law loses legitimacy law and order breaks down.

In 1991 an Afro-American named Rodney King was stopped by the Los Angeles Police for a traffic violation. As a noisy altercation began another man in a room close by videoed King being repeatedly beaten and tazered. King was struck with police batons more than fifty times as he lay on the floor offering no resistance. When the video was made public the police officers were arrested and indicted. In April 1992 a verdict of not guilty was declared in court.

In the following week peaceful protests and civil disobedience erupted into riots that caused the deaths of fifty-five people.

The reason for this was the law got it wrong not on some small matter but in a case that had racial prejudice written all over it. The jury’s decision to support the criminal actions of the police resulted in the rule of law losing credibility and legitimacy. The people withdrew their consent to be ruled by the laws of the State of California because the law got it wrong.

A Grand Jury convicted two officers in 1993 - had they got it right the first time the riots would not have occurred.

Let’s leap forward now to 2017, a seventy-five year old man Dennis Hutchings is being tried for shooting at a man he believed was in the process of initiating a bomb. He followed the laid down procedure and gave warnings but the man ran. Investigated and exonerated at the time and again between 2008 and 2011. Now he is back in court charged with attempted murder despite the fact that three months ago the charge of attempted murder was dropped. The prosecutor has also attached a charge of Grievous Bodily Harm as a fall-back position in the likely event that the attempted murder fails once again.

One might say that Dennis Hutchings has more in common with the LAPD officers than Rodney King but

veterans don’t see it that way. Hutchings acted within the rule of law and the ‘rules of engagement’ as they existed in 1975, he fired because he believed his life was in danger.

If Dennis Hutchings is found guilty the law will once again get it wrong. The law will be viewed by thousands of former British soldiers as a system that has lost legitimacy. Veterans will no longer regard themselves as consenting members of the establishment; the law that they supported and fought for will become the enemy.

The government has a dilemma; if the verdict is ‘Guilty’ the law will lose legitimacy with the former soldiers; if ‘Not guilty’ it loses legitimacy with the republican movement in Northern Ireland who constantly hint that they are prepared to return to violence. The power of the IRA is fading as a new generation replaces the old, a not guilty verdict will give their campaign new life. On the other hand the veterans groups are growing and organising and might take a lesson from the past and turn to non-violent civil disobedience, the police might have to confront and arrest former soldiers.

The Government in an attempt to appease Sinn Fein is allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions to hit Dennis Hutchings repeatedly with a metaphorical baton. Veterans are all standing by to see if the law will get it right and send Dennis Hutchings home to his family.

The law will try to be objective as pressure is applied by both sides for the verdict they desire but when the law loses legitimacy - law and order breaks down. There may be a guilty verdict to appease one side and an immediate release to appease the other. It would be better for all sides if these prosecutions were stopped.

Dennis Hutching is only the first in a long queue.

©Robin Horsfall 20th June 2017.

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