Arresting people before a crime is committed is surely dependent on circumstances. In this case, climate activists opposing the 3rd largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK were arrested. This was a demand for urgent action over climate change, and appears to be a suppression of freedom of speech.
However, how one defines the seriousness of a crime is important to this debate. People’s arrest prior to causing an arguably more serious crime can show vigilance on the part of the police and potentially save victims from the infringement of their human rights: if the police send the flying squads out to track a robber and catch him just before he enters a bank, then they have obviously done a good job for society. Even regarding more serious crimes, however, this is a contentious issue. Hicham Yezza was released without charge after being arrested and held in accordance with Britain’s anti-terror laws.
There might have been injuries, criminal damage and worst of all, lives lost, in the protest against the E.ON power station in Ratcliffe-On-Soar. At least by arresting the activists, these things were prevented.
‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a protocol that most citizens respect and are proud to uphold. However it seems that the mass arrest over the recent power station protests marks a disconcerting breach of civil liberties within the UK. Arresting before the crime has occurred is a dangerous and presumptive game to play that will only lead to corruption and injustice.
Arresting when there is clear evidence of criminal offence rules out any possibility of false accusations – it lays out a black-and-white precedent for the judicial system to follow. Otherwise, how do you decide what the cut-off point is between crime-in-thought and crime-in-action?
What is most alarming about the arrest of the 114 people is the distinct lack of evidence to prove the crimes they were suspected of conspiring to commit. The term ‘allegedly’ has appeared all too frequently in the reports of the arrests. Leader of the Green party, Caroline Lucas, said that with no charges more than 12 hours after the arrests, “confidence in policing of protests like this has just about hit rock bottom – peaceful protest is a civil liberty we need to be upheld.” The arrests indicate a worrying method of policing that has developed under a government which undermines the values and needs of a free society.