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Monday, 24 June 2013

What Is A Criminal Organisation?

In English, the phrase "criminal organisation" is ambiguous. It can mean, "an organisation of criminals" or it can mean "an organisation which is criminal".

The Courts - judges, juries - can cope quite easily with the idea of an organisation of criminals. It's a group of people who can and do commit criminal offences individually but who come together to commit crimes - usually more lucrative ones: He can drive the car, You watch out for the police, and I will grab the stuff ...
Take that to Court and it poses no problem - they are all party to the crime which they conspired to commit.

But an organisation which is criminal is a more difficult concept because it does not reduce to crimes committed by individuals. Nor does it necessarily involve conspiracies.

Let me give some examples of what I mean by an organisation which is criminal:

The United Kingdom's House of Lords.

At any one time, a significant number of its members are using their membership to do things which (by all ordinary standards) they should not do and which would ordinarily be regarded as crimes. They take money to further other people's interests, for example. They claim expenses which they have not incurred. These are not simply individual crimes committed by "bad apples". The House of Lords is so constituted and organised as to make these activities ones which can be pursued easily, lucratively and at low risk. In one important recent instance, Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions (Keir Starmer) announced that he could not authorise the prosecution of Baroness Uddin - who had been publicly exposed for what every right-thinking person would regard as expenses fraud - because she had not obviously breached any rule or standard set by the House of Lords itself.

That conclusion of Keir Starmer's allows you to jump two ways: either the House of Lords is just very lax about its self-regulation or it's very lax because that's the way it wants to be. If the latter is true, then I would call it a criminal organisation even if many of its members are honest, decent and so on. I think the latter is true - they have got the rules they collectively want to have - and I would therefore close down the House of Lords. End of criminal organisation.

In current parlance, people would  more likely describe the House of Lords as "not fit for purpose" - and all I am adding to that is the comment "and that's the way it wants itself".

London's Metropolitan Police

This is a more complicated case. Police forces are often criminal organisations, in some ways similar to Mafias. They become criminal as a result of pressures and opportunities:

London's Metropolitan Police is a highly politicised force, very close to central political power. If the politicians say Jump! the Met usually jumps. In the worst cases, politicians have been known to say, "Fit this man up with a crime!" - this is what happened during the Profumo scandal of 1963 when the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, told the Met. to come up with a crime which Dr Stephen Ward could be prosecuted for. This request seems to have caused the Met. no moral problems and Dr Ward was duly fitted up: see Richard Davenport-Hines' recent book An English Affair for details.

More generally, politicians are anxious to see the police catching those who commit currently talked about crimes - to show a good "clear up" rate for those crimes. This may be easier said than done - unless, for example, you persuade those who have committed other crimes to also own up to the crimes you particularly want "solved" . In return, the police may then say nicer things about you in Court and help you toward a lenient sentence. Failing that, you can always plant evidence. Many drugs convictions have been secured that way.

There are other pressures which push individual officers towards criminality: the desire for promotion, for example.

As for opportunities, the most talked-about one is the opportunity to sell on to the newspapers information you have gathered as part of a police enquiry. At times, this has been seen simply as a perk of the job.

If you took a long run view from the end of the second World war, then the Metropolitan Police would probably come out looking at the very least a bit dodgy if not simply criminal. It has not found ways to protect itself from involvement in crime. If you like, it's not robust enough even though the majority of its officers at any one time are probably honest workers.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland

Recently, the Republic of Ireland closed its Embassy to the Vatican. At the same time as Britain's political class was toadying - unforgiveably - to the late and unlamented Pope Benedict, the Republic of Ireland had finally had enough. The Vatican's Nuncio to Dublin gathered up his skirts and went home, and the Irish packed up and left Rome.

The criminality of the Catholic Church in Ireland has two facets.

At an individual level, the Church had been full of sex abusers and sadists - people (men and women) who condemned thousands of children to lives of fear, pain and self-loathing - often marking them for life or driving them to suicide. The testimonies which have now been assembled and published, thanks to the persistence of the Irish government, are harrowing.

At a collective level, the concern of the Church hierarchy with the Church's "reputation" meant that these crimes were condoned or covered up and that attempts to protest or complain were met with intimidation and punishment.  It is that which marks out  the Catholic Church as a criminal organisation - the drive for institutional self-preservation overriding all concerns of truth, morality, honesty or common decency.

The prevailing attitude and policy over decades was to cover-up and carry on as if nothing was rotten in the institution. Carry on, and with any luck the Pope would promote you.


The trouble with "criminal organisations" of the kind I have just described is that they are very difficult things for the law, the courts and juries to come to terms with since they ask us to attach blame not just to individuals but to organisations. And where blame attaches to an organisation, you can't send it to jail. There are really only two options: you penalise it financially (this is what has happened to the Catholic Church in America) or you close it down  - which is what should happen to the Catholic Church in Ireland. It should simply be made to start over again, from scratch. It is arguable that the same should happen to the Metropolitan Police, and unarguable that it is what should happen to the House of Lords. Since it serves no useful function, it could simply be shut down, its assets put to other uses, and its members sent to their homes. It would soon be forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. Some of what you describe is criminal activity, whilst some is amoral. The tricky question is this - if our behaviour should be governed not just by the rule of law, but also by morality, on what basis should standards of morality be based?