Expat Magazine

130. Prison Swap

By Martinfullard @MartyFullardUAE

I like Star Trek. There, I said it and I am not ashamed. Ask me who I think was better; Kirk or Picard and I say Kirk, obviously. Why? He was a renegade in his own right and sometimes bent the rules for the greater good and would never give it a second thought. Picard would always need time to mull over any potential regulation violation, and then call a meeting between a Klingon, an Android, a mad telepathic woman with no military experience and a man with a beard. Kirk did not give a damn; he would jump in without looking and always emerge unscathed, apart from at the end of Generations, when he died.

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin...

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin…

One of the key themes of the Star Trek franchise was the so called Prime Directive; an instruction that foreign worlds were not to be tampered with in any way. So when the USS Enterprise found a new planet, the crew checked to see what the life down there was doing. If they were cave dwelling Neanderthals who only ate moss yet coincidentally also spoke English then the Enterprise crew were not allowed to give them weapons, food, books or whatever else could potentially contaminate their natural evolution. Kirk, in his brash way, screwed up on multiple occasions. He tried to help rectify the problems on the Gangster planet and failed, he tried to fix the issues on the Nazi planet, and failed, and he brokered a massive arms deal so that a load of blonde-haired cavemen could kill all the brown-haired cavemen. Then there was the famous episode, Wolf in the fold, where he and Mr. Spock repeatedly tried to undermine the Egyptian-based hedonist world’s judicial system. They were right in the end, but that’s not the point.

Kirk violated the Prime Directive on so many occasions that it was not even noted as being unusual. He had to, if he had just orbited a planet and not interacted then each episode would have only been five minutes long. The one time Picard did it we ended up with a God-awful motion picture called Insurrection. Still, whichever crew of the USS Enterprise were exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life forms, they all had to play ball with the planets own law. The same is true on a sub-planetary scale; take Earth for example, the most famous life-bearing planet of them all.

Unlike every planet ever encountered in Star Trek when the planet is a united country with one law for the whole world, Earth is broken down into 197 different countries. More if you include land disputes… Anyway, each one of these countries has its own rule book on how things should be run. In some cases this is based upon religious texts, in others a business model and then there are those ruled by a madman in a volcano lair. There are general trends; things like murder and grand larceny are generally illegal in most, if not all countries. But there are many hundreds, if not thousands of country-specific laws that are confined within their own borders.

Unless you have been living in a cave this week you may have heard that a prisoner swap deal has been brokered between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. British citizens who are being detained here will be allowed to serve the rest of their sentence back home in Blighty. Conversely, those Emiratis who are doing porridge on Her Majesty’s pleasure will be allowed to serve the time back here. The only clause is that the crime must be illegal in both countries. Writing a rubber cheque, for example, will put you on death row over here whereas in the UK Mr. Mervyn King, chief of the Bank of England, rubs his hands together with glee and says “thank you.”

One of my close friends from back home is a defence lawyer who I know has had to try and find every conceivable technicality to get a defendant off the hook. Being a professional he cannot divulge the details but we all know how hard it is. The British judicial system is a bit of a running joke. All the red tape, the technicalities, the EU influences and so on makes it jolly difficult to send people to our already overcrowded prisons. Unless someone is proven guilty of murder or tax evasion then usually they are given a suspended sentence, which translates into “promise you’ll be good next time.” If they are inside then rest assured the Playstation, the 54inch plasma TV, the roast pheasant dinner and the shares in Microsoft will make the time fly by.

The judicial system in the UAE is slightly different. If the judge thinks you have shifty eyes and look like the type of person to have done it then you are sent to a shared cell, the horrors of which I could not bear to imagine. According to an obviously dated set of meaningless statistics, there are around 200 Britons in correctional facilities across the UAE. Mainly they are in there for alcohol related offences, like being drunk in public, ess eee ex outside of wedlock in a public place or writing cheques with the same characteristics as an Olympic trampoline.

Here, if you are caught drunk and disorderly then it is three months inside followed by deportation. In the UK we would not fill our prisons with people for such “offences.” If you are caught drunk and disorderly wandering the streets of Clapham then yes, you could spend a night in the cells. But you will be out in the morning after receiving a slap on the wrist and the promise not to be naughty again. This is still technically a crime in the UK but the punishment will be, at most, a fine. So after England win the Six Nations, and you take your celebrations a bit too far, the UAE will give you a free flight home. At Heathrow Plod will charge you £50 and that’s it. Huh?

Looking at it from the other end, it is common in the UAE for Emiratis to be granted pardons and freed, depending on their crime. If Britain sentenced a man to five years for tax evasion and financial irregularities, then he would be freed here instantly. The whole thing is mind boggling. I mean it is good news for Britons who can serve the rest of their sentence with an X-Box in Wormwood Centre Parcs, but for the integrity of the law? How many dangerous precedents will this set? This is riddled with loopholes big enough to allow the USS Enterprise to fly through.

I do not have a problem with the attempt at unity. Strong, healthy ties between the UK and the UAE are valuable. It is quite nice that we want to be friends and that we can put the whole empire business behind us. But I just worry that every single time any countries join together it always ends in disaster. Like the Euro.

The whole thing feels like, on some level, that Kirk is to blame. Someone has interfered here, violated the Prime Directive and left the entire concept open to abuse. We would have been better off waiting the extra 100 years or so for Picard to arrive. He would not have been so hasty.

This bold initiative is indeed where no man has gone before…

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