Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Akmal Sheikh, Paul Clarke, law in mindless action

Gordon Brown and other senior British politicians have angrily condemned China for executing a British man said to have had mental problems. Akmal Shaikh, 53, was killed early this morning by lethal injection after being convicted of drug smuggling. (Guardian).

Gordon Brown says: ""I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken."

Meanwhile, on 18th December, a British former soldier who faced five years in jail after finding a shotgun and handing it in to police in Reigate, Paul Clarke, 27, was given a 12-month suspended sentence for possession of a firearm at Reading Crown Court today. (Surrey Today)

Clarke had found the gun in a bag at the bottom of his garden, and handed it in to the police, but was arrested and told he faced 5 years in jail, because that is the automatic sentence for unauthorised possession of a shotgun. Possibly thanks partly to a Twitter campaign, Clarke's sentence was suspended, but even so a 1 year suspended sentence is a pretty dark cloud to walk under, especially as Clarke believes Reigate police seem to have it in for him because he had an affair with one of their establishment.

Both cases show the inflexibility of bad laws.
In the UK, unauthorised posession of firearm = 5 years.
In China, drug smuggling = death.

There is a difference in degree, and a certain amount of flexibility in the UK, but there is a similarity in kind, and no cause for smugness or finger-pointing on the part of Britons.

Another parallel that is shown up by the case is that the two major states, USA and China, are of a piece when it comes to belief in the death penalty. It is not good that they share this bararous practice.


Kaihsu Tai said...

Another dimension in the sad episode about the late Akmal Shaikh was that Chinese judiciaries are not independent in the Montesquian sense, but an expedient arm of the Executive in carrying out policy. Eternal vigilance demands us to ask: Is the British judiciary approximating this model, or distancing therefrom?

This applies even for the common-law Hong Kong SAR (see, for example, interpretation issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on the HKSAR residency issue) and in Taiwan (one could argue that under the Chen Presidency, he attempted reforms attempting judicial independence, but arguably the efforts were not ‘Chinese’ ... and look where it got him now: locked up for life).

Reprieve UK, which has done brilliant work for the Guantánamo detainees, asked us to petition the British government to enter an amicus curiæ brief at the Chinese Supreme Court. I wondered about this and looked up on the web: There is no such thing as amicus curiæ in the mainland PRC system (there is in common-law HKSAR).

It is a poignant reminder for us that our presumptions about other systems of government may not always be accurate. In the present case, two options are open to us: try to change the system (but see the Liú Xiǎobō case); or avoid placing ourselves within the jurisdiction thereof.

Anonymous said...

I have little/no sympathy for Clarke. He had previous convictions for possession of a stun-gun and for affray, and waited four days before taking the gun to a police station, rather than securing it at home and getting the police to collect it. To be honest, I suspect that his story of finding the gun was a load of bull, and he was lucky not to get convicted of a more serious offence.

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DocRichard said...

Equally, it is possible that the gun was left in his garden by Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

'Equally' isn't the right word - in theory I could have left it there, but it's not surprising that the suspicion should come to rest on the person who found it in their own garden and failed to hand it in for four days, particularly when they already have a conviction for possession of a stun-gun. Maybe that was a set-up, and the Surrey police do have a grudge against him, but the accused could always claim that. I think this case left egg on the faces of a lot of the popular press and the bloggers when more of the facts behind the case came out.

DocRichard said...

Anonoymous, did you actually look at the link in the text?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did read that link, along with many others about the case. Maybe he was unlucky enough to have someone throw the gun into his garden, and given his previous convictions for possession of a stun-gun, affray, and handling stolen goods (and getting cleared on appeal for assault, despite admitting attacking a DVLA inspector with a broom handle), he decided to sit on it for a while. Maybe Surrey police really do have a vendetta against him on the basis of a relationship he had/is having with a female officer. But on the balance of what I have read in the press (sadly not as informative as a court transcript) it appears that he has extensive previous history, and behaved in very odd manner when he found the gun. A former soldier should have known better.

DocRichard said...

The point is that law badly formulated and rigidly applied can give unjust results.