I wonder if the demonstrations over the Charlie Gard case, the opposition to Martin Moore-Bick in the Grenfell Tower inquiry and the general attack on the judiciary over the Brexit hearings are the start of what sociologists call a ‘symbolic’ crusade – complete with ‘moral entrepreneurs’.
In a symbolic crusade moral entrepreneurs attack an institution or position with an ulterior motive in mind. One example is the temperance movement and prohibition in the US. In Britain, another example was the Incest Act 1908. There was no legal need for it; just a twitch of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, so that it was not necessary to have the father’s consent for a child to be examined in abuse cases. Instead, over 20 years, moral entrepreneurs such as the Primrose League, Snowdrop Bands and the National Vigilance Association used the problem to clean up immorality among the working classes.
Similarly, the 1996 Dunblane massacre led to the near-complete ban of firearms in the UK, when a mere tightening of regulations regarding issuing gun permits would have sufficed.
There is also an argument that the anti-hunting legislation was about class warfare rather than cruelty to foxes. After all, do fish really like struggling against hooks in their mouths only to be thrown back in the water for it to happen time and again?
In 2011, we had another crusade. This time the text was the evils of phone hacking, but the subtext might be seen as the destruction of the power of the press, particularly of Rupert Murdoch and his empire. There again, another subtext may have been the suppression of investigative journalism.
If I am correct, this present crusade is to weaken the position of an independent judiciary; the idea being to substitute it with judges who will bow more easily to ‘the will of the people’.
Or am I being fanciful?
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor.