Category Archives: freedom of speech

The guilty-if-accused school of jurisprudence

George Pell at court: an overdue victory for the rule of law

Detention without trial, guilt without proof

It is shocking, writes Dalrymple, that the case against Cardinal Pell was seriously investigated in the absence of evidence, and even more shocking that it was brought to trial and ended in conviction. Of course,

it is terrible for someone who has suffered abuse to not be believed. But it is also terrible for an innocent man to be wrongly accused, even if he is eventually exonerated. It is part of the unavoidable tragic dimension of life that both are possible: not for nothing is the prohibition of bearing false witness one of the Ten Commandments.

He warns of the danger of surrendering legal administration

to the political and emotional pressure of those who believe that certain categories of crime are so heinous that normal safeguards against false conviction must be abrogated. Better that ninety-nine innocent men be convicted than one guilty man be acquitted, especially when he already belongs to a category of persons whom one dislikes.

No one is guilty merely because he is accused

Dalrymple notes that campuses,

with their censorship and de-platforming, have demonstrated how shallow is the commitment of some people to the notion of freedom of speech and thought. Likewise, the Pell case has illustrated how shallowly implanted is the commitment of some people to the principle that a man is innocent until proved guilty, once moral enthusiasm for a cause takes over.

This,

be it remembered, takes place in polities in which the principles of freedom of speech and the rule of law are supposed to be deeply rooted. Things are often more fragile than one supposes, including the commitment to basic rights of the accused.

Associations in defence of victims of abuse are said to have been angered by the overturning of the Cardinal’s conviction. Dalrymple asks:

Would they prefer detention without trial, and guilt without proof? Perhaps if it were under their direction.

There are fears for the safety of the Cardinal,

so certain are his calumniators of the rectitude of their outrage.

Error and even malice are the price of freedom

In the realm of intellectual freedom, writes Dalrymple,

it is not truth that sets you free, but error, or rather the permissibility of error.

The freedom to tell lies

is one of the most basic freedoms. There can be no freedom without it.

Dalrymple points out that at Western universities, young people

encounter a narrow, powerfully self-reinforcing view of the world.

The pressure to conform

adds to the natural self-righteousness of youth, which is often mistaken for idealism, and young people’s impulse to censor in the name of their irreproachable virtue is strengthened and entrenched.

The long-term prospects for freedom of speech, Dalrymple notes,

are not altogether rosy. Those who value it are less vehement in their defence of it than are the self-righteous in their assault on it.