Fishy business over the pond

The Attorney General for Massachusetts has urged the US Congress to stop allowing the marine enforcement agency to keep proceeds of fines and forfeitures it imposes on fishermen.

Former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke  set up an investigation into the forfeiture activities of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

His appointee, federal Inspector General Todd Zinser, found

“extensive waste, fraud and abuse by the agency. It also proved what fishermen have long suspected: allowing NOAA Fisheries to retain the proceeds from forfeitures, seizures, fines and penalties against fishermen gives the agency a perverse incentive to continue its abusive enforcement practices against fishermen. This conflict of interest must be eliminated.”

Congressman Barney Frank and Senator John Kerry have launched bills in Congress and Senate respectively to remove the NOAA access to seized funds.  Both bills would establish a formal process to reimburse fishermen and related businesses for legal fees incurred in successfully challenging enforcement penalties.

As any student of “freakonomics” will tell you, every economic incentive creates a perverse result.  Incentivising confiscation by sharing the proceeds with enforcement agencies has produced an international system of state-licensed banditry, in which the assets of innocent and guilty alike are meat for a hungry public sector.

The UK has many great examples of this.  Watch this spot.

Police misconduct dealt with firmly

On 20 July 2011 the Supreme Court gave its decision in the case of R v Maxwell, an unusual appeal following the decision of the Court of Appeal to quash the murder conviction of Maxwell and his brother.The conviction had been quashed due to appalling misconduct by police who – as often happens – had outsourced the taks of fitting up the defendant to a serving prisoner, Karl Chapman.  They had bribed Chapman with visits to a brothel, free drugs and large sums of money and then lied about this conduct at trial. When the CCRC brought the facts to light Maxwell mounted a successful appeal.In the meantime, it was said, Mr Maxwell had freely confessed to the murder. The matter ended up in the Supreme Court because the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial.  Counsel for Maxwell, Mr Patrick O’Connor, argued that it was offensive to justice to allow a retrial in such circumstances.

The Supreme Court refused to overrule the order for retrial, giving due weight to the public interest in protecting 85 year olds from aggravated burglaries.

An interesting nugget in their judgment was the apparent immunity of the guilty coppers.  Lord Dyson commented

“On the face of it, there is a strong case of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and forgery. No explanation has been provided to the court as to why there have been no such disciplinary or criminal proceedings”.

Contrast this with the five officers sacked last week by Merseyside Police.  They had  snapped their own mugshots on a mobile phone “larking about” while searching a house,  one posing with a packet of Frosties, others with various household items.   For this heinous crime they were sacked without notice, earning a quick headline for the Deputy Chief Constable.

Much less bothersome than drawing attention to real police misconduct!