The more effective torture is, the more important it is that it should be banned

The question, as counsel love to say to witnesses wrestling with an unfair question, is a simple one:

If a nuclear time bomb is ticking away at an undisclosed central London location, is it morally permissible to torture somebody to discover its location so that it can be disarmed?

In real life the chances of any choice being as clear cut as the “ticking bomb” scenario are all but non-existent. The situation bears little more relationship to reality than a school debate about whether Stephen Hawking or Alan Bennett should be the first to be thrown out of the balloon.

Would we be sure that there really was a nuclear bomb?

Would we be sure that we had the right man?

Would we be sure that torture was the most effective way of extracting the information?

Nevertheless, if the dilemma is posed as starkly as a straight choice between water-boarding an individual, or a nuclear holocaust for millions, the answer to whether we should inflict torture is surely an unequivocal “yes”. In such an hypothetical situation it would be absurd to scruple over the infliction of pain on an individual if the certain consequence of doing so was death to millions.

Does it follow then, that the law should allow interrogators, such as those employed by the CIA, or even MI6, to use torture? Continue reading “The more effective torture is, the more important it is that it should be banned”

Dan Hodges is wrong on the burden of proof. We must never sacrifice the innocent for the greater good

Dan Hodges believes that the high standard of proof set for the conviction of criminals is allowing too many to go free.

Instead of acquitting defendants unless there is proof “beyond reasonable doubt” that they committed the crime, Mr Hodges wants to change the system so that people can be convicted if it is merely “probable” that they are guilty.

Now it may be, as criminal barrister Dan Bunting has – and I hesitate to use the word about someone like Dan B whom I greatly admire – somewhat sneeringly suggested, that Dan H has just made “a rather silly comment in order to be controversial.” Of course he has a column to write, and it can’t be easy having to think of something interesting to write day in, day out. Certainly if I had to do it I would very quickly run out of material and desperation might well lead me to say anything, however outrageous and absurd, in order to generate a lively batch of comments underneath my column.

But I am afraid Bunting’s airy dismissal of Hodges isn’t really good enough. If changing the standard of proof really is such an obviously silly thing to do, then we need to address his arguments.

Here are 4 reasons why Hodges is wrong. Continue reading “Dan Hodges is wrong on the burden of proof. We must never sacrifice the innocent for the greater good”