A man who really fights for justice must lead a private, not a public, life if he is to survive for even a short time.”
—Socrates, in Plato’s Apology, 31d–32a
Daniel Morgan died with an axe in his face. We cannot save him. We cannot bring him back to life. What we need to do is bring his killers to justice. If we cannot bring his killers to justice, can we claim to have a decent society? If we cannot bring his killers to justice- if such justice is impossible- are we forced to settle for a lesser form of justice–“natural justice”? When “natural justice” is the only justice available to a citizen, then the common good, the basis for justice, between the citizen and the state begins to erode. The state without justice becomes illegitimate and political order becomes political repression. Daniel Morgan’s murder and its aftermath should wake up every citizen to the threat to their liberty from a justice system unable to deliver justice, a police force unable to resist natural justice and a political order unable to sustain the common good.
Daniel Morgan’s death, the six failed police investigations, the failed review of the police investigations and the need for an independent judicial review have already been chronicled by many excellent articles and blogs. The argument here links the murder and its aftermath to a wider political philosophical problem of the state’s inability to bring Daniel Morgan’s killers to justice. The murder’s aftermath reveals a wider decay in political legitimacy that hangs like a shadow over society. The argument has three connected claims. First, Daniel Morgan’s murder forces us to ask, “Will he have justice?” The question, already asked by others, concerns all citizens. If the state cannot deliver justice after six police investigations, then who can get justice? Second, the aftermath of the murder revealed a deep flaw within the justice system that can undermine the public interest. As the Leveson inquiry has shown us, the press, to a greater extent, and police, to a lesser extent, abused the public interest for their own institutional ends. Third, it shows us that when justice is not available, where political legitimacy is eroded, communities become disordered. “Natural justice” emerges when individuals and communities reject the common good and resist the rule of law as a standard for justice. Justice can still occur so long as society expects it, sustains it and delivers it. A politically just society will insist upon a police force (and other guardians) act in the public interest and not their institutional interest. Yet, the central issue is whether the political society is healthy enough to demand and deliver justice. If the political order cannot deliver justice, then the political legitimacy becomes uncertain and political reform becomes the only way to restore justice.
Philosopher’s Justice, Political Justice, Natural Justice
In any society, three types of justice mix. The first is perfect justice can be understood as the philosopher’s justice, which is the abstract standard of justice by which all societies are measured. Like the philosopher, perfect justice informs the second type of justice: political justice. Political justice is the politician’s justice, by that I mean, society’s best approximation of perfect justice, through a democratically elected government. Judicial interpretation and amendment refine political justice, which is then enforced through the legal system. Political justice, though, is vulnerable to corruption. When politically legitimate authority no longer holds sway, natural justice emerges and a natural political inequality emerges. By that I mean, a “state of nature” returns, which we had escaped through our social contract, our government, to achieve political equality upon which we create a decent society. We use our reason to discover the extent to which perfect justice informs that process. What we discover is expressed through the rule of law. Without the rule of law, natural justice would dominate our society.
In the criminal community, natural justice exists is criminals experience because they cannot access the political justice by reporting crimes against their criminal enterprises to the police. Instead, they exercise a “gangster’s justice” or what Hobbes called a “right of nature” (jus naturale). It is “the liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himselfe, for the preservation of his own nature.” When carried over into a community or a larger society, such a view of justice means “might makes right” and the laws are made for the powerful and their interests. By contrast, political justice is measured by something beyond natural justice. In the aftermath to Daniel Morgan’s murder, we have slowly been losing sight of the higher standard of justice.
Political justice and political equality
The higher good, expressing the idea of perfect justice, legitimates our laws. Perfect or philosophical justice is what we strive for in our societies. As society remains incomplete, we have to settle for imperfect justice. What Daniel Morgan’s murder showed us was that even our imperfect justice is not possible. If the justice system is unable to deliver justice on behalf of the common good, then order within society, between the individual and the community, is flawed. When political justice fails, people are not being treated equally before the law. Without access to justice, society’s relationship with the citizen becomes disordered. If the political society is disordered, or corrupt, then it cannot be lawful and therefore cannot be just. In a disordered community, the only type of justice that is available is natural justice. Such a society can no longer claim to be a decent society.
Will Daniel Morgan have justice?
The Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have admitted that justice is impossible. Police corruption of the original investigation and failures within the CPS, concerning the handling of the evidence and their approach to case management, meant the trials collapsed. We appear to have the façade of justice. We can see this illustrated in the notorious Brink’s-Mat robbery, where only a few of the criminals involved in the robbery were jailed. The natural justice that occurs in the case is when gangsters kill gangsters, with nearly a dozen unsolved murders associated with the case. If Political justice has failed, then society has to wait for “natural justice” to run its course.
To the extent that justice is impossible for Daniel Morgan, it is because of police corruption as the police admitted after the collapse of the latest trial. When the police are involved in the cover up of the crime, then the officer becomes part of the injustice. Their failure though is not limited to the Daniel Morgan murder. The murder and its aftermath revealed widespread corrupt policing practices that continue to haunt the Metropolitan Police as they seek to create a modern police force. Because of the perceived corruption, communities are unwilling to engage the police or political justice. When police officers betray their oath to the crown by taking payments from newspapers they can appear to be acting like gangsters as they have begun to act outside the law. They are not acting for the public interest or the common good, but for their own good. In their own way, corrupt police officers and gangsters prefer natural justice. To people in communities dominated by gangster justice, without a politically legitimate authority, the police can appear as another gang and not representing a legal or legitimate political justice. In these circumstances, a community can reflect the natural justice over political justice by protecting a murderer from the police instead of upholding the rule of law. In Daniel Morgan’s case, the killers know they are immune to justice because they know no further cases will go forward without a judicial review. The institutional corruption within the police, when, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) flawed handling of the case has made political justice impossible. The institutional failures over 25 years also show us the extent to which the public interest has been undermined in direct correlation to the extent to which natural injustice has emerged within communities. The impossibility of justice reflects an institutional abuse of the public interest that is only now becoming known.
The betrayal of the public interest.
Daniel Morgan’s murder reveals a wider injustice within society. The murder’s aftermath shows that institutions (the press, politicians, and the police) that derive their legitimacy from the public interest abused it. Over the last 25 years, we have seen how the public interest was warped by a public opinion that was deformed by institutional interests. In a healthy democracy, the laws and customs of a society set the framework for shaping public opinion. However, they are not enough, which is why a free press is vital to a democracy to the extent that they protect and promote a public interest. Yet, when the tabloid presses, serve their institutional interests and not the public interest, they distort that process. They used the public interest as a shield for their illegal activity. When News of the World corrupted police officers through payments and post-police employment, they damaged democracy. They undermined our belief that justice is possible because they decided their institutional interests were the public interest. The same ethos implied in the decision to run a headline called “The Truth” after Hillsborough, which put circulation over the truth, can be seen to appear in the unrelenting assault on personal privacy in the pursuit of profits by the News of the World. When the public opinion has been corroded, so that we cannot find a common good discovered by our reason, society begins to move from persuasion to coercion.
We can see the move from persuasion to coercion in the myth of policing by consent. If policing is not based on a shared concept of justice that is discoverable by reason, then its authority is based solely on its overwhelming (if implicit) power. Policing becomes the view that our gang is stronger than your gang. We are back to the belief that might makes right, or as the tabloids would say, popular makes right. Neither view is based on justice or a belief in a common good. Both end in nihilism. Neither is sustained against a non-arbitrary standard of right. The public good creates a public interest that can be expressed through a free press. When newspapers abuse the public interest for profit or their own institutional ends, they erode the public good.
Corrupted public interest undermines possibility of justice.
In the Leveson inquiry, we saw how the public interest has been abused for the past 25 years. We have seen politicians intimidated, police officers bribed or bought, people in protective custody potentially exposed and personal lives destroyed.
When such activity goes unchecked and unchallenged, no citizen is safe or secure even the Crown. The press, in particular the tabloids, decided what was in their interest was the public interest. We can see this expressed in Rebekah Brookes and Andy Coulson’s statements that payment to the police, itself a criminal activity, was justified in the public interest. We also see it expressed in Paul McMullan’s testimony to the Leveson inquiry where “circulation defines the public interest”. The guardians (the press, politicians, and the police) defined the public interest to suit their institutional interests. In this regard, they reflected the residual political patronage system in UK political culture. The public interest was not being used to protect the individual. Instead, absence of political meant the majority rule (the public interest) was not protecting the rights of the minority (the individual). In such a situation, the citizen can only rely upon himself or herself, to the Crown, or European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protection. However, an ordinary citizen is too weak. They do not possess an equality of political arms to defend their public interest. The Crown, which has limited constitutional powers to protect the citizens, remains on the political sidelines unable to intervene. The ECHR, while willing, is too remote and mediated through Parliament and the Courts to have enough influence.
In the UK, the individual does not have the equivalent of a bill of rights to assert their political equality and defend their public interest, which neither the government’s nor the judiciary determine. What we see, though, is that citizens lack the essential tools to protect themselves against the powerful, especially institutional, power. In such a system only the powerful, the politically connected, can assert their equality, the protection of the law, within the public sphere. Ironically, even this equality is illusory if they become the target of institutional power. What we see then is natural justice infuses society, as the state is the greatest power. The state reverts to what Hobbes called The Leviathan, which is based on the innate inequality of power, dominates society. In such a situation, political or institutional corruption increases as the institutional interest replaces the public interest and Nolan principles of public service are violated. In the future, any organisation claiming to work in the public interest must demonstrate how its work fulfils those principles. Yet, in the aftermath of Daniel Morgan’s murder, the political corruption reached a level where a former news editor who admitted to a Parliamentary committee that his newspaper had paid the police for information could become the Director of Communications for the Prime Minister. The individual who had admitted that staff under his direct responsibility had suborned public officials could be placed in a sensitive role at the heart of government based on a patronage relationship. What does this say about the political judgement of the people elected to protect and expand the public good and work in the public interest? What does this say about the possibility of justice in the name of the public interest?
The decline of political legitimacy and the rise of “natural justice”
When public interest is corrupted, then the public opinion becomes corrupted. As political order relies upon public opinion, it too, becomes corrupted. When the rule of law, as expressing a politically legitimate order, no longer has effect, natural justice emerges. On the street, natural justice sees crime families or gangs create “order” on their interests, not the communities. We see the rise of no-go areas. In the penthouse, the powerful create their own no-go areas where the rule of law. The public interest serves their interest.
The decline of the public interest is interrelated to the decline in political legitimacy within communities. When the citizen no longer believes the state can deliver justice, then they disconnect from the public good and policing and the rule of law become problematic. No-go areas appear when communities do not believe justice is possible within society. The community does not see the police acting according to justice. Instead, they see the police dispensing their “natural justice”. The communities will see killings by the police as extra-judicial killings or “natural justice”. What the police see as a just operation, their killing of a gangster such as Mark Duggan; the community see as gangsters killing a gangster. In turn, these communities will see the killings of the police as a form of justice, a form of retribution or revenge. Injustice creates a disorder that can be manifested in a number of ways. First we can see people sign up to a Facebook page that says Raoul Moat as a “legend” and “respect” him because he “kept the police on their toes”. Second, we can also see it when gangsters feel no restraint in killing police officers. To the gangster’s thinking, the police are just rivals for power in the community. Third, we can see it in situations where a man was arrested and imprisoned after parading in a shirt stating that killing police officers represents “perfect justice”. The shirt reflects a disordered relationship with society. Yet, no one appears to have reported why he would wear the shirt or be so contemptuous of the police. What he presents is a belief that the police are not working for the common good but deliver a corrupt justice that support their institutional interests People accept “natural justice” because they are separated from the wider community of justice, the common good. When the common good is eroded political inequality becomes manifest and natural justice begins to emerge. We see gangster justice where gangsters or criminal families dominate the community. When combined we see the reason for the UN report to describe some areas of the United Kingdom as No-Go areas. The police may patrol these areas, but political justice, as the rule of law, does not extend into these communities.
The powerful also seek to live beyond the rule of law.
The same type of gangster justice can be found among the wealthy, the powerful and the politically connected. They, too, seek to live beyond the rule of law to sustain the inequality that benefits them. They are not opposed to the political order, which reflects their interests, but they subvert the rule of law by using the public interest to further their own interests. They use political influence to avoid criminal sanctions. In effect, what a gangster does on the street with a gun, they do with a pen or with political influence. Both communities express the gangster’s justice because neither group believes in a public good or the equality required by political justice.
Jimmy Savile’s behaviour and the appearance, if only implied by association, of institutional protection offered by the BBC reflected someone who was living beyond the rule of law or justice. We see it when the powerful use their political influence to escape compromising criminal incidents, such as Peter Morrison and his sexual attacks on boys. We can also see it inside the police where honest officers see corrupt officers protected or promoted. When that happens, it warps the police officer’s innate sense of honour. It corrodes their soul and degrades their integrity. In that moment, in that decision to allow the powerful to escape justice, they become party to political corruption of justice. They become the victim as well as the willing enabler of a political injustice.
Where the rule of law and government has power, there can be justice. The public see street crime so it becomes a priority for public opinion and the public interest as the public expect public order. Yet, they rarely, if ever, see the same lawlessness, the same contempt for the common good, in the less public places. As a result, “private” crimes, off the street or away from the public’s attention, as shaped by the media, receive less attention. In such a situation, the depraved, the powerful, and the vicious can prey upon the weakest, such as those in care homes (such as Winterbourne) or children’s homes (such as Rochdale). In such a disordered society who speaks for the weak and the voiceless? Who will give them justice, when their guardians fail to protect them?
Justice measures a regime’s political health.
The question is whether we have justice in the UK. The UN report in February 2012 warned that there were areas in the UK, where drugs gangs were influential that could be considered no-go areas. Despite the London riots of 2011, the police leadership and press denounced the report. Then, police officers were killed in Manchester. Two unarmed officers were ambushed and killed by a grenade and gun attack. The disorder within society showed “natural justice” at work in that community as the gangsters were willing to kill police, the most immediate representation of the political order in a society. At a national level, the Leveson inquiry shows the disorder within the regime is endemic to the political and social institutions. The political system’s legitimacy rests upon its ability to deliver justice, which is essential to maintaining order. Trying to create order without justice will fail. Without reform to reassert a correct ordering within society, we will see the secondary effects; riots, police killings, and the weak being exploited get worse. The flawed institutions weaken the idea of justice as equality and fairness. At the same time, political inequality before the law influences economic inequality. If people cannot take part in the wider common good because they lack political justice, they are unlikely to find economic justice. The political system needs reform.
The police reform is taking place and one area that needs to be addressed is the philosophical myth of policing by consent and re-establishing their relationship to society based on justice. As a political organisation, they reflect and express the state’s power to maintain order and not reflecting and expressing the public good as a form of justice. The police were created to serve the public good indirectly by maintaining order. Reform will need them to reconsider their role in society. When they enforce the law, they enforce a political order. If the order is illegitimate because it is not just, then they serve to oppress. What we have seen is that law and order have become separated as the common good erodes. The rule of law reflects a just society. When the police serve their own organisational ends, they no longer uphold the law as an extension of justice but as an extension of their own interests.
The impossibility of justice shows us that justice may be possible
Despite the challenges Daniel Morgan’s murder and its aftermath has raised, we must find hope for reform. The Leveson inquiry has shown us that it is possible to bring the guardians to account for their actions and change behaviours. The public must understand that they are living with the illusion of safety if society is without justice based on political equality. They will only have a veneer of safety as the police, the stronger gang, make them safe from gangs in the street or the penthouse. The rule of law becomes the limit of our safety. Beyond the rule of law, a no-go area exists be it in the street or the penthouse. The riots, police killings, and the Savile scandal show how the powerful or the disaffected who are contemptuous of the public good, can threaten our safety. We may think we have public order, but it only resolves the symptom and not underlying injustice. To effect change, we must understand and hold our institutions to account to create political changes by consent before it is done by force.
With enough interest and an overriding belief in the political justice and faith in a decent society, justice can be achieved. In some cases such as Hillsborough, the public campaigns for justice succeeded in bringing a change and forcing the government to apologise. In other cases, such as the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, the initial success has been slowed by institutional inertia. The possibility of justice in society remains latent. We may have to accept that the only “justice” Daniel Morgan’s killers will face will be natural justice, which shows us the need for reform of the justice system. Society and the political institutions, to some extent, recognise the need for political reform. We need to reform within the justice system so that no one has to settle for natural justice. We need reform to challenge the belief that natural justice is all that is possible. If political reform does not connect political justice to the common good, it will fail. If there is no reform, there will be no justice. If there is no justice, there will be no peace.
What needs to change?
What we need is transparency in police activities because where the rule of law and government stop, transparency stops. A transparent police will make an accountable police. Publicly accountable police forces will create an organisation responsible to the public interest and not their institutional interest. At the same time, the police need to be reform at a philosophical level so their role is more than enforcing order but enforcing the rule of law. The rule of law must run from the street to the penthouse with neither being a refuge for “natural justice.” In turn, we need to reform how the guardians of the regime use the public interest to stop it being a shield for illegal activity done for institutional profit. Finally, we need political reform in which the relationship between the citizen and the state creates a political justice reflects the common good, based on individual rights rather than institutional power reflecting vested interests. If we can rekindle justice within our communities and with each other, we can achieve justice within society. However, the journey will not be easy.
What Daniel Morgan’s murder has shown us through the impossibility of justice is that it makes us question what justice means, which in turn, leads us to consider the possibility of justice. Our choice is between two societies. We can continue on the path where natural justice continues to expand in our society; or, we can reform our institutions and create a political justice based on a common good. If we change society so that the killer’s natural justice is no longer possible, then we will have gone some way to getting justice for ourselves and for Daniel Morgan.
- The death of Daniel Morgan (newstatesman.com)
- True justice cannot be perceived (teachingsofmasters.wordpress.com)
- Private detective’s axe murder: family ask Theresa May for inquiry (standard.co.uk)
Daniel Morgan’s murder is a lose-lose situation for The Met. Keep trying to cover-up by using at least one bent cop that we know of, a disgraced detective who was sectioned in 1989, or face the music in cyberspace where they are already judged guilty, by complicity and by design.
Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I hope my post did not give the impression that the police or any political organisation are beyond reform. Any renewal of justice will involve the police, which means we have to treat them as part of the solution.
I am struck, in doing this post, that the police took the time to conduct 5 investigations and spend the time and the money. These are no small matters. Alas, though, that does not provide justice for Daniel Morgan.
I think the police can and will reform, and they can shake off some of the cases that have plagued them in the past. It will take time, it will take political courage, but most importantly it will require an engaged citizenry who will remain vigilant to these issues. The stakes are too great to do anything less.
I hope to blog in the future on police reform, time permitting, and would welcome your comments on that future blog when I finish it.
The more of us who blog on police corruption, the better.
I agree that scrutiny and accountability are needed for a healthy democracy and an accountable police force. At the same time, though if we want to change things, then we need to encourage what is working right and propse changes to reform the police or any public institution. We owe it to ourselves to lend our voices to improving our society by improving the institutions that shape our society.
I think policing in Britain now is far too corrupt to be salvaged.
I cannot agree. If the police are beyond reform then it suggests the political system is beyond reform. Instead, i think the political system can be reformed and by extension the police can be reformed. In many ways, they go hand in hand. To do either seperatelly, will only deal with the symptoms.
What is clear though is that the success will depend on public interest and involvement.
10% turnout for PCCs?
Perhaps it will be higher. In any case, it is a sign of more direct elected civilian control and accountability over the police. Is this a bad thing?
The police and the political system need reform and they are a key part of any reform. If we do no more than point out their failings, which may be many, we go no further forward. We need to show how reform is needed, how it can work, and how it will work.
Will it be perfect? No. However, unless we try we cannot improve the situation.
Justice may not come in the immediate case, so if we can change the political system that makes it harder for similar crimes or corruption to occur in the future, then we have turned the injustice of Daniel Morgan’s murder into something that can bring justice to the system.
Initially I supported PCCs but now it seems like yet another Jobs For The Boys Initiative.
The PCCs are new. I think with any new venture established groups will usually be better organised to support candidates. The difference, though is that this will stretch groups and areas to reconsider the political landscape and the policing landscape. Neither of which can be a bad thing in a democratic society in which power must be accountable for there to be a healthy democracy.
We see daily that people in power,have no respect for the law Cameron on votes for prisoners,refusing to give information to leveson for scrutiny ,if our main man picks and chooses which laws he abides by then the law has no place of value in our society this leads only to lawlessness and disobediency prevailing.like the people who protected Savile they choose which rules they were going to a adhere to and which to ignore ,only evil prevails when this is allowed to happen,has we witness in corporate, bankers,media,police & political corruption
Thanks for the comment. I am glad to see the point concerning the gangster’s justice resonates. If the law is not respected and enforced, when the powerful (such as Savile) are able to flout it, who is safe?
What is particularly worrying is how the practice, allowing political influence to flout the law, corrupts the police officers involved. In a sense, they become drawn into it because it is demonstrated clearly to them the limit of the law and thus their ability to act with integrity and honour is compromised by the system.
I would be interested in what you would recommend to change the system and to bring about a better respect for the law.
Thanks again for the comment.
“To the extent that justice is impossible for Daniel Morgan, it is because of police corruption as the police admitted after the collapse of the latest trial.” You seem to take this “admission” at face value. Why? If they are corrupt and lie, why should this statement be true? And why do you assume that the guilty person can be identified after all this time? Is it not just another unsolvable crime?
Thanks for the comment. The admission was by the police. They stated that they could not take it forward because of police corruption in the initial investigation. The issue has been discussed extensively in many of the articles and books associated with the case.
The Metropolitan Police and the CPS also reviewed the case under the case Abelard II. I would recommend reading this for seeing the issues related to the problematic handling of the case. The one good thing that may come from this injustice is that the CPS improves its handling of complex cases of this nature, especially those involving “supergrasses”.
If the case had been handled cleanly in the first place, without any police corruption ie a police officer actively involved who had an undeclared interest and relationship with the suspects, it is likely that the case would have been solved to the point of achieving a conviction. Although the case may have had a different outcome, one never knows the counterfactual, the police and the cps have seen enough to get to trial
The case is more than an unsolved crime because of the police corruption admitted by the Metropolitan Police. Moreover, capital crimes, murder, have no statute of limitations. The state keeps these cases open because the highest responsibility of the state is justice. For the individual it is something higher. In that sense, any unsolved crime is an injustice, which affects the wider society. If all crimes were unsolved we would have a terrible and brutal society.
You will note that the Metropolitan Police, to their credit and as a sign of the loyalty required to sustain the rule of law, never stopped investigating the Keith Blakelock murder to ensure justice is served. In this, they show that an unsolved crime remains a challenge to justice. To be sure, this is a capital case, just like Daniel Morgan’s case.
really enjoyed your analysis of this and the various angles of justice you’ve looked at. Th whole piece got me thinking on a number of issues and I always love reading something that makes me think “when people ask me what I am talking about I can use this as an example”.
Two parts you wrote that really made me think were:
We can see the move from persuasion to coercion in the myth of policing by consent. If policing is not based on a shared concept of justice that is discoverable by reason, then its authority is based solely on its overwhelming (if implicit) power. Policing becomes the view that our gang is stronger than your gang. We are back to the belief that might makes right, or as the tabloids would say, popular makes right. Neither view is based on justice or a belief in a common good.
Finally, we need political reform in which the relationship between the citizen and the state creates a political justice reflects the common good, based on individual rights rather than institutional power reflecting vested interests.
I am going to pass this on to a few other blogs and hopefully it will make others think to and spread some awareness.
I am glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for the positive comments. Please feel free to share and to cite the post. I only ask that you reference it directly by a link, which is today’s equivalent of a footnote. If you get a chance I would be interested in whatever you write based on the ideas developed in the post.
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Excellent article. This case should not be forgotten about and dimissed as an unfortunate one-off occurence for a myriad of reasons (not least because of the distress to Daniel’s family). This shows how it affects us all and must be properly addressed.