The UK government is pathologically out of control. And our courts are following its lead.

The Royal Courts of Justice and Theresa May regarding climate change
Steve Topple

A court case the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) won on Tuesday 20 March has set a precedent for the blocking of sick and disabled people’s human rights. And for me, it shows a government completely out of control. So much so, that you could argue it was bordering on the pathological and psychopathic. But is the judicial system following suit?

Human rights? What human rights?

As I wrote recently, the DWP was granted the power by a court to stop the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) being used by benefit claimants when appealing its decisions at tribunals. This effectively means that people can only argue that the DWP has violated their human rights in the High Court, which will cost money.

On the same day, the Law Society reported that the poorest people in society are being ‘priced out of justice’ by legal aid cuts. As The Guardian noted, the Law Society:

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Criticised the fact that many on low incomes are being deprived of access to justice by the very system that is supposed to support them.

It is hard not to view these two separate cases as being part of the same government plan. That is, to cut poor people’s benefits, then deny them any opportunity to challenge this, leaving them with two options: live in absolute poverty or find work, whether their health or impairments allow them to or not.

The UK courts: siding with the government?

This is the latest in a growing list of cases where courts have ruled in favour of the government. Those rulings have allowed the government to ignore the rights and best interests of the citizens it should be protecting. The Court of Appeal also ruled the controversial benefit cap was legal, despite the High Court ruling it wasn’t. Last week, we had the ruling in the Streets Kitchen homeless shelter occupation, where a judge sided with a corporation and refused to set a precedent. Then we have the case of a court granting fracking company INEOS protection from campaigners. And there was the Sheffield Trees saga, where a judge slapped residents with injunctions to stop them protesting the council’s and a company’s actions.

It appears the judicial system in more and more cases is bending, defeated to the will of government and corporations. Indeed, those working in the system even admit to this, with a recent report showing [pdf, p144] that 43% of UK judges think the government does not respect their independence from it.

report by the Lords constitution select committee in November 2017 said it was “concerned” about the lack of diversity in the judiciary. It also highlighted the issue of press criticism of judges. And it was back-handedly scathing about the failure of the government to defend them. These factors, it said, implied that its independence was threatened.

Government failings

What the above court cases highlight is the government failing in its most basic duty to us, its citizens. This is elementary stuff. Even the BBC schools website notes:

The government is responsible for the general welfare of citizens and gives protection to the most vulnerable in society.

And the UN thinks it has violated disabled people’s most basic human rights. So you’d think the courts would step in and protect us from it. But they are doing no such thing, looking less independent and more battered down by the government as time progresses.

Why?

Psychopathic cultures?

In his book Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires, Will Black describes in detail how the personalities of powerful people who exhibit psychopathic traits seep into the business, organisational, political and social structures around them.

Let me be explicitly clear on what I am about to say.

The terms ‘psychopathic’ and ‘pathological’ are used by Black in the realms of social science, as Joel Bakan also demonstrated in his book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. I am in no way attempting to create stigmas about people living with mental health issues; nor am I tarnishing all these people with the same brush. As someone who has actually been sectioned, this is the furthest thing from my mind.

What I am arguing is that the influence of a handful of people with psycho-/sociopathic tendencies can have vast ramifications.

Toxic empires

In his book, Black describes some of the official classifications of a person with “pathological personality traits” as:

  • Antagonism, characterised by manipulativeness, deceitfulness, callousness and hostility.
  • Disinhibition, characterised by irresponsibility, impulsivity and risk taking.

We have a government that was accused by the UN of “misused statistics” and a “smoke screen of statements” to cover up its human rights violations. Manipulation?

We have a prime minister who knowingly lies to parliament. Deceitfulness?

We have a secretary of state for work and pensions who mocked the public during a debate on food banks. Callousness?

We have a health secretary who defies the professional opinions of doctors and nurses in the NHS, causing chaos. Hostility?

And we have a government that would happily begin a ‘cold war’ with Russia, without firm evidence. Irresponsibility, impulsivity and risk taking?

Unconscious cruelty?

Black says the 440-word description of a psychopath shows how difficult it is to “define” and “respond effectively” to them. But he later describes how:

Though it is often commented that politicians share many characteristics with psychopaths, they might argue that such criteria do not apply to them as they are meant to coolly take decisions in which people are sometimes harmed…

I don’t want to over-simplify Black’s excellent work. But in essence, he states that a handful of psycho-/sociopathic individuals in positions of power can cause nearly everything, and everyone, around them to behave in a similarly psycho-/sociopathic manner. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not.

This is exactly what we are witnessing in 21st-century Britain. Whether or not it is a handful of current politicians’ pathological tendencies influencing everything else, or inherited ones from former leaders, is debatable. But it is surely indisputable that the government’s nefarious and downright wicked treatment of some of its citizens is twisted and warped. And this seems to be spilling over into our courtrooms. It is of concern that the government appears to be unaware of these pathological tendencies. But of more concern is that courts are following suit.

The system is pathological. We need to stop it.

Black sums up by saying it is “for society to decide if the systems surrounding us are pathological or not”.

Our government is both pathological and psychopathic, whether intentionally or not. And by default, this is now rubbing off on the judiciary and other systems around it. It takes two doctors to section a person under the Mental Health Act. Anyone free?

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Featured image Dan Perry/Flickr and 10 Downing Street/YouTube

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