The lacuna has been caused by my being on the (literally) high seas crossing the North Atlantic from Montreal to Liverpool as one of four passengers in a container ship. The full, unexpurgated version of this trip (including The Big Wave) will appear on my wife’s blog in due course. Here I wanted to give my first impressions of my native land, England, after a gap of several years. Both impressions are concerned with the law.
- In Liverpool I was horrified to see three cars parked outside the police station in the town centre. Large notices stated that these cars had been seized by the police because they were found to have no insurance. The message was clear: get insurance for your car or the police will seize it. I hope that everyone reacts with the same revulsion as me to this evidence of a police state. Note that these cars were not seized by the courts (perhaps using the police as their agents) and displayed outside the court building: they were displayed outside a police station and had been seized by the police. This is an erosion of the legal system far beyond even that for which Private Eye had prepared me.
- The second issue is perhaps even more profound. On the M4 motorway I saw a number of notices saying “Average Speed Cameras”. My daughter explained that this was not a comment on the quality of the speed cameras but a different way of checking whether cars are breaking the speed limit. Apparently the time at which the car passes a certain point. A, is recorded and the time at which it passes another point, B, a known distance away is also recorded. By this means the time average of the car’s speed can be calculated. Using a fairly obscure piece of mathematics the police (?) or court (?) apparently argues that if the average speed is x m/s then, at some point in the journey, the car must have been travelling at x m/s or faster. This seems to be the sort of argument around which any competent lawyer could run rings: “And precisely which theorem are you using to imply that? What assumptions does that make about the continuity of the speed/time curve and its differentials?”. Perhaps more importantly, this is the only law I know based on an existence proof. We don’t know where you broke the speed limit between A and B, we don’t know at what speed you were travelling at that time nor for how long you held that speed (is it, for example, illegal to travel at very high speed for 1 microsecond, thereby increasing the average?) but we have an existence proof based on some dubious assumptions about continuity and a little-known mathematical theorem that says you must have broken the speed limit somewhere. So we’ll prosecute you.
Coming, as I do, from the fens of East Anglia, a place well-known for its lawlessness and Hereward the Wake, I cannot understand how the English have allowed this type of state to arise.