COMMENT: Law, respect and the lesson of 'Plebgate'


00:58 GMT, 23 December 2012



00:58 GMT, 23 December 2012

The case of former Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, pictured, has been a lesson

The case of former Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, pictured, has been a lesson

So much of our civilisation rests upon trust that we have tended to take that trust for granted. After all, it is surely a good thing that people believe the police generally tell the truth, that public servants are honest and competent, that the BBC is scrupulous and fair.

On that basis, we willingly pay our taxes, automatically obey the law, endure the costs – human and monetary – of war, and live on the basis that an innocent person has nothing to fear from authority.
What are we to do if this trust turns out to be misplaced

If a police officer can manufacture a story to damage a politician, if MPs can pad their expenses and the mighty BBC can turn a blind eye to serious sexual wrongdoing among its stars, why should the rest of us abide by rules that our masters laugh at

Where there is no trust, there can be
no proper rule of law, for the two are completely intertwined. There
will either be chaos or there will be rule by naked force. The great
achievement of our culture, a very rare combination of order and
liberty, has depended on a general assumption that we are all acting

That is why the
Mitchell affair goes far beyond the question of who said what to whom
about the opening of a gate. The police do not have our respect because
they carry guns or truncheons, but because they stand for integrity and
justice without fear or favour.

this miserable tale ends, in the courts or with high-level resignations
(and both are possible), it must be the signal for a general
re-establishment of high standards of behaviour in all our professions.
We have had no end of a lesson. Let us see that it does us good.

Talking is the cure

When we are ill enough to seek a doctor’s help, we need to be sure that the physician knows what he or she is doing and understands our fears. We don’t care where he comes from, let alone what colour his or her skin is. We just want to be cured, and the reassurance of medical competence is often the first step to recovery.

Let us be absolutely clear that competence, and nothing else, is the issue in the matter of doctors who fail key examinations. The tests for Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners are rigorous and designed to ensure objectivity. Doctors from overseas are, and always have been, welcome here and are essential to the running of the NHS.

The hard truth is that, in medicine, communication is absolutely crucial, both for the patient to explain his troubles and the doctor to enquire into them; and it continues to be vital in diagnosis and prescription. The main practical answer to this problem is enhanced training in communication skills for all those who need it.

Christmas still counts

It is fashionable to feign cynicism about Christmas and to sigh ‘Here we go again!’ as the annual avalanche of Dickens, holly, turkeys, puddings and old films descends upon us.

But actually most of us – adults as well as children – still look forward to it as a time, safe and separate from the rest of the year, when generosity is normal rather than eccentric and goodwill as near universal as can be.

Let us not be embarrassed to admit it. We like this ancient festival for a thousand sound reasons and we wish a very Happy Christmas to all our readers.