Spread the word – especially if you live in the UK. If you live elsewhere see if there are similar protests in your country. Visit Photographer Not a Terrorist.org to find out more.
The average person is not a criminologist. This is as obvious as saying that the average person doesn’t have many skills in dentistry. You’d think long and hard before you asked a random person in the street to fill one of your molars.
So, I’m pretty gobsmacked by a cracked new plan to give the public the opportunity to vote on punishments for convicted criminals.
Research carried out by the Cabinet Office has persuaded her that greater community engagement would not encourage vigilante activity or excessive punishments. (from the Guardian)
The mad ministers supporting this plan are keeping it for minor offences, because they know full well that letting rabid local prejudices determine the penalties for more serious crimes would lead to some horrific outcomes. But this implies that people found guilty of minor offences are likely to get less fair treatment than people convicted of major crimes. They might have the details of their offences posted online, for instance.
Smith feels that although the police are becoming better at informing local people about the progress of prosecutions, too many people “disappear” into the criminal justice system. She argues that “justice seen is justice done” and is backing plans for courts to set up local websites informing people of the fate of criminals and cases.
So, commit some minor offence and it is posted on the net for your friends, family, boss and any potential employer to find forever. If you assume that one offence of disorderly conduct should ruin your chances of getting employment for life, then fair enough. However, I thought that the possibility that people could incur a penalty and return to normal life after paying it was inherent in any concept of justice.
Anyone who thinks that it’s OK that getting found guilty of any minor offence means that you’re branded a criminal for life had better get used to there being a huge marginalised group of people with less than no chance of ever getting legitimate work. So, basically, forced to commit crimes to survive.
There are so many things wrong with this plan, I could rant for days. For example, penalties would be decided locally, so would clearly vary from place to place. Sentences are supposed to “reflect communities’ interests”. What if you lived in an area where most people oppose your race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, style of dress, or whatever? Would you get fair treatment. Or where you are really popular with the local “community leader”? Or vice versa.
What sort of people will feel they have a right to vote on the penalties for petty crimes? Smug bigots, busybodies, self-appointed community leaders, Daily Mail readers and so on. Is their thirst for vengeance going to be assuaged or fed by getting the right to lord it over petty offenders? Obviously not. They’ll see no reason why their solomonic wisdom shouldn’t be applied to more serious offences. And it’s hard for the government to argue that it’s OK to go down the medieval route for low-level crimes but that serious criminals should be protected by 21st century laws.
The government is already treating the opinions of people with expertise and training in dealing with petty offenders – the probation service – as irrelevant. On 30 December, the Probation Officers Union NAPO expressed unease with the government decision that people doing community service should wear reflective jackets that announce that they are serving a sentence.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said organisations, including churches and charities, that offer unpaid work placements for offenders had become wary of using the vests after incidents of offenders being abused by the public, including missiles being thrown at them. “Many of these organisations are faith-based groups who believe it is not their role to oversee humiliation,” he said, adding that in one area a group of youths had chanted “nonces, smackheads, lowlifes” at one work group. (from the Guardian)
Well, yes, public humiliation is not actually acceptable as a penalty. I am pretty sure that the EC Human Rights Act and international law say something about “cruel and unusual” punishments. And that’s in terms of NOT using them.
The justice minister, David Hanson, fuelled the debate last night by saying he rejected the results of the Napo survey and expected all 42 probation areas to implement the introduction of the high-visibility clothing. “The public expects to see justice being done, and this is what the jackets achieve,” he said.
Hmm. NAPO claim to have evidence that offenders are being bullied and that charities don’t want community service workers to be stigmatised BUT the “justice” minister won’t accept this. He’s not interested at all really. When it’s a question of buying the Daily Mail reader vote, centuries of painfully developing a more humane justice system can go by the board.
“The public expects to see justice being done,” my arse. Is there any evidence for this, at all? Must we assume that the same imaginary people who are badgering Jaqui Smith for the opportunity to have an ID card are also badgering the Justice Minister to provide visible evidence that people convicted of minor offences are being punished? If this is the public’s expectation, it hasn’t been met for a good few centuries. The public used to get to see criminals thrown to the lions in Ancient Rome and to see public executions in pre-modern Europe. Is a public execution a reasonable expectation? Many people were so enraged against the parents of Baby P that they would have felt that execution was reasonable . Would they have the right to watch this over the internet if the death penalty was restored? Failing that, surely the public won’t be satisfied until they can watch Baby P’s murderers in jail on 24 hour webcam over the Internet.
Would this be OK with the minister, if the public’s need to see justice being done is so paramount?
Comically ironic that the case involving a search of a Tory MP’s office (over systematic leaks by a senior civil servant) has had most of Parliament enraged at the shocking suggestion that they could be subject to the same laws as everybody else. The incident seems to have well nigh destroyed the career of the police officer in charge, in sharp contrast to the very limited career damage suffered by senior police officers after the mere shooting of an unarmed Brazilian. Ironic also that the Blair era cash for honours investigations managed to go absolutely nowhere but brought complaints about the waste of public money on pointless police investigations… .
Silly me. There is one rule for MPs and another for the rest of us. So, I would like to share with MPs the mantra of the onward march of UK repression “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.” 😀
I am naive enough to think I remember a time when there was some modicum of journalistic integrity in the media. I am sure I remember a time when the news was reported in an understated, even handed manner. I am not so insane that I think the news has ever been really free of some element of spin and “PR” work, however it strikes me that today it is so endemic no one notices any more.
Two recent examples have highlighted how the use of English can create a massively different news item.
The first came up during a bored spell spend looking over regional news items and regional news papers. The Belfast Telegraph had an article on a man who had survived a horrific attack by the Shankill Butchers and apparently died of a stroke recently. I suspect the lazy journalists at the Belfast Telegraph have over-used Wikipedia as a source, which highlighted my initial concern. Before I go on, I should emphasise I am not disagreeing that they were ruthless, evil sadists and that this person survived after having both wrists slit is amazing.
The Wiki entry on the Shankill Butchers (today at least) reads:
The “Shankill Butchers” were a group of Ulster Volunteer Force members in Belfast, Northern Ireland, who abducted Roman Catholics usually walking home from a night out, tortured and/or savagely beat them, and killed them, usually by cutting their throats.
In the Telegraph it was similar, with the emphasis being on how the sadistic nutters terrorised the Catholic community. Interestingly, they are “credited” with torturing and killing 19 people, of whom 7 were Catholics. Given that, at that time in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely any of the victims would have been described as “atheists” it seems logical to say 12 of the victims were Protestants.
The Shankill Butchers killed 150% more Protestants than Catholics, yet almost all the media reports about them describe them as almost exclusively targeting Catholics.
The point I am trying to make here is not one group suffered more than the other and I am not trying to trivialise the suffering the communities underwent as a result of their insane behaviour. What interests (and worries) me is that by dismissing a whole spectrum of their activities the larger group of victims is marginalised to the point at which they cease to exist. Instead of describing this as a shared community horror, it is sold to the public as a 100% sectarian event, possibly inflaming relatives of the dead.
How can that be good for bringing the two communities together?
The next recent issue is unrelated. Listening to today’s Radio 1 news (yes, sorry) there was a bit in the morning where they talked about domestic abuse. The newsreader read out that the number of reported cases of domestic abuse has tripled over (memory hazy but 3 years seems what they said), however in an alarming manner he also reported “the number of convictions remains the same at 17%.” I cant find the exact numbers used but it was along the lines of 1000 has increased to 3000.
Wow. How terrible. The implication was that more cases were going to court but the “system” had not managed to secure any more convictions, and what a terrible legal system we must have if these people (who are obviously guilty because it has gone to court…) are getting away with it.
However, given ten seconds consideration and you can see the language used by the newsreader was inherently misleading.
The first part of the item gave a number. Hard figures. It might not have been a nicely rounded as 1000 to 3000 but it was something like that. This is something you can hang your hat on. The optimist will see this increase as people feeling able to report more abuse, the pessimist will see it as more abuse happening. (Or vice versa…). That is not the issue.
When the news reader stated the “number” of convictions had remained the same he then went on to give a percentage rather than an actual number. This is a significant issue. If we take round numbers, you can see there is a HUGE difference between 1000 reports and 170 convictions which has increased to 3000 reports with 170 convictions and 1000 reports / 170 convictions becoming 3000 reports and 510 convictions.
In the first example, it would indicate a problem and he would be correct that the “number” of convictions was the same. The second example uses the numbers the newsreader used, but the “number” of convictions has certainly changed.
If you want to spin a news item to make people worry about an ineffective legal system you say “the numbers haven’t changed” (which is, actually, a lie). Was that BBC Radio 1’s intention? One of the reasons this annoyed me, is that on getting into my workplace – filled with supposedly “thoughtful” and “analytical” people, I had several conversations about how the legal system was letting people down and despite more reports, they hadn’t managed to get more convictions…
The world is mad.
Now my enforced hiatus is over, it is time for me to rant a bit about some of the borderline insane things the UK media has been getting up to during the traditionally quiet months at the end of summer. (What summer?)
Unusually, I think I am going to try and be a bit tactful about this and I really don’t want people to get the wrong impression here. Before I go on, I can not imagine the trauma and heartache that the McCann family are going through right now but I am going to use them as an example of the amazing double standards that the tabloid press can hold themselves to. This is in no way meant to imply that I think the McCanns are guilty of any crime.
Over the summer, the tabloid press (especially the Daily Express and the Sun newspapers) have been clamouring about how our (UK) society is going down the pan and coming up with such “common sense” solutions as harsher sentences, more police powers etc. Generally speaking anyone even suspected of a crime which makes it to the press is assumed to be guilty, and if a court finds differently there is outrage about how we need stronger laws etc. (For an example, see the nonsense that a terminally bad singer has been spewing out in the Sun (and alun’s excellent comment))
Almost daily we hear from a distraught relative about how the accused is actually guilty and anything which seems to say otherwise is just flawed. Opinion pages and talking heads on the TV go on about how our “human rights act” means the suspects are treated too lightly and this is preventing the police getting convictions. The trial by media is almost total and almost totally ignores the actual progress of the case or the final verdict. It goes as far as the farcical comment that if they are doing things which aren’t crimes it just means we don’t have strong enough laws… It is, in short, madness.
Stepping into this world of chaos, vitriol and bile we have the poor oppressed McCann family. After months of tabloid coverage showing the distraught family on their world tour to raise awareness of their lost daughter, and months of UK tabloid coverage saying how bad the Portuguese police are (largely because they don’t tell the press every single thing they do, but that is a rant for another day), recently there has been a slight change of events. Slowly the Portuguese press started to consider that the parents may have been involved in the death of the child.
Under normal circumstances this would have been the first line of investigation and, sadly, most child killers are family members (feel free to Google the UK Home Office statistics if you don’t believe me). In most serious crime cases, police officers being police officers, family members are the first to be suspected — especially in cases where there is no obvious signs of forced entry or violent struggle.
Now, slight sideline, there have been lots and lots of murders and abductions in the time since Madeleine McCann went missing. Can any one name any of them? If you search through the news footnotes (mostly local news items), the family are invariably picked as suspects and hammered by the investigators. Although not 100% relevant this is a snapshot from recent news here, here, here and here – all examples of relatives being found guilty of the torture and death of a child. If anything, it is pretty amazing to me that the McCann’s were not brought in by the police and interrogated for hour after hour to find out what happened. Part of me feels that the media circus which sprung up around the case almost from the onset caused this…
Anyway, eventually the Portuguese police have followed on from the media claims and begun to investigate the possibility that one or both of Madeleine’s parents may have been involved. It strikes me that if this was any other case this would be normal and perfectly acceptable. However this is not any old case, it is the McCann case… This means that the papers which print speculation that the McCann’s may be guilty get taken to court for libel (this must be making more than a few UK paper editors worry) and the UK news is now filled with tearful footage about how cruel the police are to even begin to suspect either parent. Even the BBC (which is now pretty much a tabloid as far as “news” goes) seems to be falling in step with the common idea that the McCann’s are saints who would never hurt a fly. Call me cynical but comments like this don’t make me feel the person must be innocent :
“They made a series of ridiculous allegations. Kate is a loving and caring mother who sincerely believes her daughter is still alive. She was absolutely horrified. Kate is a lovely mother to her children, she’d never hurt them. Anyone who knows Kate would say that to make an allegation of this kind about her is absolutely ridiculous.” (Family spokesperson Justine McGuiness)
Leaving aside the “Family Spokesperson” aspect, what criminal (this does not imply I think Kate McCann is a criminal) wouldn’t have a statement like this? Can you imagine the prelims to a murder trial where the defence spokesperson says “my client is a murderous scumbag who hates everyone and loves to kill people”? Does the family spokesperson really think this will sway the police? Obviously, yes is the answer to that – or there is a sinister undercurrent and the spokesperson is actually getting ready for a criminal trial but that is a route I wont go down for now, I will hold to good faith and assume Kate McCann is innocent.
The important part is the media reaction to all this. The local news and radio stations (sadly, I cant find any links at the moment) have been hammering on today about how cruel it is to interview Kate McCann, how ELEVEN hours in questioning is a monstrously long time and so on. On breakfast TV, I watched a reporter go on about what an ordeal Mrs McCann had undergone and the comparisons with the much fairer, reasonable English justice system.
This is mind boggling. Compare the compassion and feeling being poured out towards Mrs McCann with the vitriol and hatred thrown against people like the early suspect (Robert Murat) who was pretty much found guilty during the Trial by Media. Compare this with the demands for harsher laws, tougher police powers to question suspects and the like – all being touted by the same tabloids who are now saying how 11 hours is a long time to be questioned. Imagine how “tired and distraught” a terrorist suspect must feel after 28 days of police questioning. Ironically newspapers cry out how cruel it is to suspect Kate McCann, ignoring the speed with which they demanded the conviction of Mr Murat — not to mention the furore around any other suspect unfortunate enough to make the news pages. As always, the Sun Newspaper (in the loosest sense of the word) is truly blind to the irony and has the following “sun says” editorial comment:
PLODDING Portuguese police have not covered themselves in glory over their probe into the disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine McCann.
For over four months her devoted parents Kate and Gerry have done everything in their power to help detectives find the missing girl.
But while cops have refused to give any public details about their investigation, the Portuguese media is now awash with rumours and innuendo leaked by police sources.
Yesterday, bungling police called Maddieâ€™s tragic mum, Kate, in for yet another agonising grilling.
If this is just another fishing expedition, they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Hasnâ€™t she suffered enough?
It is almost enough to make you want to vomit.
[tags]Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, McCann, Police, Portugal, Portuguese, Media, Tabloids, Society, Culture, Philosophy, Rant, Law, Justice, Murder, Crime[/tags]