Big Business Is Now Officially Above The Law
Our society is organised to facilitate business activity, to cut big companies as much slack as possible and to try to enable capitalist enterprise to operate freely within the market environment.
At least nominally, however, all individuals and businesses were and are supposed to be equally subject to the relevant applicable UK and EU laws.
It would seem that no longer applies to big business in this country as evidenced by a number of events in recent years, leaving aside how so many global businesses shaft UK taxpayers by paying little or no tax here despite one of the most liberal tax regimes and (despite their empty rhetoric) successive governments' tolerance of tax avoidance in the western world.
It has been disclosed recently that a portfolio of evidence was submitted to the Leveson Inquiry detailing how a significant number of large UK companies (some blue chip) had used the same private investigators as the guilty newspapers for similar surveillance and allegedly illegal hacking activities.
Leveson apparently decided that this fell outside the remit of his Inquiry and refused to admit said evidence.
The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee asked the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to provide this evidence to them so they could determine whether or not further action was required by them given their major locus in the phone / computer hacking investigations.
SOCA refused on the grounds that public disclosure or even merely providing this information confidentially to the Select Committee members at all might seriously affect the commercial interests of the businesses involved.
This is an outrage, not least because SOCA had apparently had this evidence for nearly 5 years, but did not investigate further. If there is evidence of law breaking, then action must be taken, yet the law does not seem to apply to the companies involved. Why should that be so?
Similarly, it is now more than six months since the horsemeat scandal came to light yet so far there have been no prosecutions for the widespread sale of contaminated products which at the very least did not comply with the regulations regarding accurate description of meal contents.
It is not as if the likes of Tesco deny that this has taken place and I wouldn't mind betting that if a local restaurant or takeaway had been found serving up such contaminated food, the book would have been thrown at them tout de suite. One unashamed law for the well-heeled and another for the rest of us is the sole conclusion one can come to.
Despite the financial crash, whereby the taxpayer bailed out so many of our "too big to fail" banks and the country consequently nearly went bankrupt, how many prosecutions of bank operatives have taken place in the UK as a result, bearing in mind that the corrupt bonus culture which was the main root cause of the problem was founded on sales of notional financial "products" which hardly anyone - including those selling them - understood and 100%+ mortgages being provided for housebuyers with inadequate means of repayment? None that I am aware of (unlike the USA).
Admittedly there is the prospect of a modest number of small fry being charged as a consequence of the LIBOR scandal but the big fish carry on as usual with snouts as deep in the trough as before the 2008 crash if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. Meanwhile the rest of us have nearly all seen our incomes eroded in real terms and our savings (if we have any) earning next to nothing.
It would seem that SOCA may be forced to disclose the evidence in question which may therefore eventually see the public light of day. However will those who should be held responsible actually be made accountable? I wouldn't bet on it, although like LIBOR a few sacrificial lambs may be thrown to the mob to assuage public concern.
There is a better way. Under RIPA, activities like illegal surveillance and hacking are subject to an accountability regime which leaves little or no wriggle room.
If executives have approved such illegal activity they are liable to prosecution. If they claim they did not approve it or were wholly ignorant of it in an attempt to pass the blame lower down the food chain, they can still be held accountable under RIPA for negligence in not instituting sufficient safeguards in the operating systems of their company or for not exercising sufficient oversight to prevent such things happening in the first place.
This sort of regime should be applied to other areas of business activity so that responsibility cannot be so easily dodged. If the law continues being applied so overtly partially, then the foundations of our society will become undermined and we will all be the poorer for it. I don't expect the Coalition Government to do this however given their track record.
And would an incoming Labour government take genuine steps to rein in these excesses and make big business subject to the law as they should? Given how they are as supine as the Tories in this sphere, I wouldn't bet on it.