Anonymous witnesses and 42 days

The British legal system is falling to pieces, and it worries me. Worse still, when talking to a close friend the other day, I realised that they didn't understand the purpose of having a legal system in the first place.

The legal system is not there to incarcerate or otherwise punish criminals, it is there to protect the freedom of the majority. It protects our freedom by punishing people who break rules that we, as a society, have, willingly and rightly, imposed on ourselves.

The legal system is there to ensure that we can retain as many freedoms as is feasibly possible while allowing large numbers of us to live together in something resembling order and harmony.

So we come to 42 days of detention without charge. You have to wonder if it takes 42 days to gather evidence to charge somebody what the quality of the evidence leading to their arrest was like. 42 days is a ridiculously large amount of time for this process. Canada has 24 hours. Even China, well known for being a bit over the top, 'only' has 37. Welcome to police state Britain.

Then we come to the decision of the Law Lords (those peers that are legally qualified) that evidence given by anonymous witnesses is to be disallowed as the prevention of cross-examination means that the trial is unfair. This is the right decision. It is the only sensible decision. Imagine you are incorrectly accused of a crime, and the majority of the weight of evidence against you comes from an anonymous witness. Shouldn't your lawyer be able to ask questions that would expose them as a fraud?

But the UK government wants to rush laws through making this kind of evidence acceptable.

Letting somebody get away with a crime is itself less of a crime than imprisoning an innocent person. It is time that people realised that the law is there to protect our freedoms, not make it easier for others to take them away.


Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is a topic where a lot of nonsense has been spouted by both sides. The greens keep giving us worst case scenario situations you could make a Hollywood blockbuster about and the the 'evil nasty capitalists' say it's not worth the effort.

Lots of the arguments focus on climate change, but that is not to say the argument for using renewable energy collapses if it is ignored. Renewable energy sources have two other major advantages.

Raw Materials
Or the fact you don't need to buy them. Oil (and hence gas) prices are rising, and the planet has finite reserves. Renewable sources such as wave, wind and solar energy do not require the purchase of such things. This tends to reduce running costs, and hence consumers' bills.

We need not worry is another country stops selling us coal/gas. We would be self-sufficient in terms of energy production. This would mean that the cost of energy would be more stable.

So in the long term consumers could save money if the government invests heavily in renewable energy (oh, and we may just save the planet too).


Jeremy Kyle and the Lie Detector Test

I would like to make it perfectly clear that I hate, with a passion, talk shows. Why these people need to use television as a medium to air their laundry is beyond me. I know lots of people want to be on the TV, but I wouldn't want to share anything that personal, and generally anything that embarrassing/pathetic, with the world at large.

But that's not the aim of today's rant. No, today we focus on that Jeremy Kyle staple, the lie-detector (aka polygraph) test. There is much argument on the reliability of these tests, generally somewhere between 60% and 97% is quoted (however a great deal of this evidence is unreliable).

The physiological effects recorded by the polygraph are not unique to deception. Surely this should set off alarm bells?

Well no, these people on what seems to be a daily basis put major decisions in the hands of a machine which is at best 97% accurate. Kyle is guilty, as others are, of making this seem almost infallible.

What I do in a situation like this is turn the statistics around. 97% accurate means 3% inaccurate. For every 100 tests done, 3 (on average) will give the incorrect result (remember that this is the best case scenario!).

If you were a jury member would that be accurate enough for you to convict? If you were a judge would you accept that if the average accuracy of the evidence before you was 97% then for every 100 people you convicted 3 would have been denied their freedom for no reason at all. I hope not.

Innocent people will unfortunately be imprisoned under any system of law and order we have, as a species, yet envisioned. But for me the number of innocents convicted would have to be, as a minimum, somewhere around 1 in 10,000 (99.99% accuracy). If the evidence was any less convincing than that I would, personally, have to call that reasonable doubt.

But Kyle commits a worse sin. An inconclusive test is just that, it is impossible to draw a conclusion from it. Yet the daytime demigod, facing four possible thieves who had undergone the polygraph, three of which got an all clear and one of whom got an 'inconclusive', picked on that 'inconclusive' person as the culprit. An inconclusive result, even given the fact that the others pass the truth test, does not mean that person has failed to tell the truth, it means that the test has failed to discriminate.

Of course this would require Kyle, the juror/judge, the people on the show, etc. to have a sound basic knowledge of mathematics and scientific reasoning. Which given the fact we live in the Jeremy Kyle generation is sadly unlikely.