Precrime Never Pays; the realities of predictive law

William MacNeil’s account of ‘Minority Report’ and Law and Economics calls into question the use of preemptive strikes, and draws on questions of lex populi (popular law) and the commitment to pre-empting the law trough prediction. The idea that law can play a role in both addressing and redressing potential legal problems before they occur is presented as a hypothetical, futuristic trepidation to mankind, but is it really so unheard of in current legal discourse?

The idea that an economy has the ability to transform law into an instrument of coercion and the state behind it into an authoritarian security system seems farfetched. After all, isn’t the law one of the strongest tools we have against authoritarian power under human rights, judicial reviews and public enquiries? But what about when the context is changed to a legal system where there are little to no sources of redress?

MacNeil links the themes of precrime to that of the Bush Administration in relation to the threat of the Islamic Middle East before it materialises (irrelevant of evidence) and draws parallels later in the article to pre-emptive strikes against precrime nations which are modelled on a set of assumed and selectively sifted facts. International law and the International system is rife with predictions of threats to the peace and collective security measures. The idea that prediction and lex populi can reduce the law to a status of a security system is hardly farfetched when you look to what the United Nations deems itself to be.

MacNeil argues that those behind such systems have the power to manipulate and even manufacture consensus for such measures in order to promote the PreCogs as fool proof. In the International legal system, PreCogs are known as ‘intelligence agencies’, and the questions as to their durability is protected as state secrets and sovereignty. The willingness to believe in the necessity of the system comes arguably from scaremongering and isolating minority groups with little ability to stand against allegations; how can you prove you are innocent of a crime which has not yet been committed, and when the evidence of the crime is not open information?

In relation to the terrorist listing process, a Canadian Federal Court Judge related the situation of a listed suspected terrorist to that of Josef K in ‘The Trial’, who awakens one morning and for reasons never revealed to him or the reader, is arrested and prosecuted for an unspecific crime. Not only is international law tending to focus on individuals predicted to be capable of committing a crime, it is enabling punishment of them without their knowledge of the crime. MacNeil’s assertion that rights are being displaced seem hardly fictional when put into contexts such as this.

But MacNeil goes further and asks argues that this is for a commodity. Skin deep criticisms of international law would argue such commodities such as oil, or political power, but a more thorough assessment would look to the benefits of an international legal system with inconsistencies. The benefit to the US of such inconsistencies, such as deligitimation of the system may enable states to defer from responsibilities. But for a state that claims to uphold values of Human Rights (and impose those values on the rest of the world), how can they justify removing rights and ignoring law so blatantly?

MacNeil presents how Minority Report demonstrates a world without right, and without the law, because prediction has rendered it irrelevant. The international Legal system, already heavily criticised for its weaknesses, gives us plenty of parallels with the minority report’s destructive future for the rule of law and justice.