Tuesday, April 11, 2006


REAL criminals are just fine. It's ordinary decent citizens you have to crack down on.

Like millions of others in modern Britain, David Langton is a law-abiding citizen who keeps getting into trouble. His crimes? To drive, to park, to be an ordinary person who makes occasional mistakes. In the past year he has had his car towed away from outside his home when the parking bay was suspended; he has been caught by two "safety" cameras when driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit; and he has twice been fined for forgetting about the London congestion charge.

"Most recently I've been fined 100 pounds for stopping on a red route at 3am for a few minutes while a friend bought a takeaway meal," said Langton, a 28-year-old freelance writer from north London. "I am utterly fed up of the sledgehammer approach of police and councils when it comes to dealing with minor motoring misdemeanours. "I have never had an accident, and in every case I was not blocking traffic, causing a nuisance or endangering life; but none of that is taken into account. My biggest crime is absent-mindedness." Yet he has had to pay almost 1,000 pounds in fines and risks losing his licence if he falls foul of the dreaded speed cameras just twice more. "I consider myself a fundamentally honest person," he said. "It makes my blood boil when I read about burglars being given community service when people like me are taken to the cleaners over parking offences. The legal system is skewed in favour of real criminals."

It is not just motoring law that is driving ordinary people round the bend. About 1m people are also fined for filing their tax returns late; worse, more than 40,000 people were fined in the past two years even though they had filed their returns on time.

If you fail to recycle your rubbish properly, you can now be stung for up to 2,500 pounds. In recent weeks police issued a teenager in Kent with an 80 pound penalty notice for saying "f***" (though the case was later dropped). In another case a 10-year-old boy was prosecuted after calling a mixed-race pupil "Bin Laden" in a playground argument. Judge Jonathon Finestein called the decision to take him to court "political correctness gone mad".

Was this what voters expected when Tony Blair said he would be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime"? Hardly, says David Fraser, author of a new book called "A Land Fit For Criminals". Fraser, who spent 26 years working in the probation and prison services, argues that the public have been consistently hoodwinked over the true nature of government policy on crime and punishment. In a detailed analysis, he claims successive governments have talked tough on crime but acted soft. The reality, says Fraser, is that criminals convicted of many nasty offences often face nothing tougher than probation, fines or community service.

More here


Forty rapists a year are escaping jail sentences and instead are allowed to walk free with a caution, reprimand or final warning after admitting sex attacks on men and women. Senior police officers, women's groups and academics who have investigated the way that rape is dealt with by police and the justice system last night expressed surprise at the figure. Chief police officers said that as far as they were concerned rape was not an offence suitable for a caution.

The women's groups and experts on rape called on the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to provide details of cases in which cautions have been given rather than a full trial taking place. Jennifer Tempkin, Professor of Law at the University of Sussex and an expert on the law on rape, said she had never known of a rape case resulting in a caution. "Some of these cases may be justified, but we just do not know anything about it," she said. "Some explanation would be useful so we can all be sure that cautioning is being used properly. Forty cases of cautioning for rape in a year is a not insubstantial figure."

The number of people cautioned for rape has more than doubled in a decade. Cautioning for rape has risen at a time when the rate of conviction for rape has fallen from one in thirteen reported cases in 1999 to one in twenty in 2004. More than half of rapists were current or former partners or boyfriends.

Latest figures show that in 1994, nineteen people were cautioned for rape, but by 2004 Home Office statistics disclose that the number had risen to forty, comprising thirty-six males and one woman cautioned for raping a female and three males for raping another male. When Labour came to power in 1997, the figure was twenty-six, comprising twenty-three men cautioned for raping a woman and three men for raping another male. The overall figures for cautions include final warnings and reprimands which since 2000 have been used to deal with young offenders under 17. Like a caution, they involve individuals admitting their guilt.

In 2004 cautions were given to: nine boys aged 12 and under 15 who admitted raping a female; eleven boys aged 15 and under 18; three males aged 18 and under 21; and sixteen to males aged 21 and over. In the same year a further 751 people were convicted in court of rape, only 5.29 per cent of rapes reported to police.

Despite concern in Whitehall at the fall in convictions to a record low, the CPS was able to give only one example of a caution being used. A CPS spokesman said: "Cautioning is only used in very extreme circumstances and is not a decision that is taken lightly." Last night the Association of Chief Police Officers said that it had never heard of a case where a caution was given for a rape. It said: "Our guidance is that rape is excluded as an offence for which a caution is available."


California: Get government out of the bedroom?

It's getting back in, it would seem

The California Supreme Court will sift through the ruins of the marriage of an AIDS-infected couple today to decide what information partners must tell one another about past high-risk sexual activity. At a hearing in Los Angeles, the court will look into the legal consequences of a woman's claim that her husband -- a healthy person, by all outward appearances and his own assurances -- infected her with HIV. Her lawsuit, in which she is seeking damages, raised issues that require the justices to weigh health concerns against the right of sexual privacy a quarter century into the AIDS epidemic.

One question the court will address is how much one spouse, or unmarried partner, is entitled to know about the other's sexual past as a safeguard against infection. Another is whether a partner who was unaware of his condition can be held responsible for infecting his mate if his past practices or health condition should have given him cause for concern.

The case has given rise to some unusually blunt language in written arguments to the court. In particular, a lawyer for the wife, identified only as Bridget B., minced no words in arguing that she should have been told about her husband's past sexual contacts with men before she "decided to risk her life by having unprotected sex'' with him. "This is not a hooker and trick in some back alley -- or a sordid affair in a cheap hotel,'' wrote attorney Roland Wrinkle. "This was a formal marriage. How can the state protect a wife's contractual and property status in dealing with her husband, yet not protect her life?''

In response, lawyers for her former husband, John B., said requiring an infected partner to disclose details of his sexual past would intrude on his privacy -- and the privacy of his former partners -- without providing any meaningful health protection. In light of sex education programs and public health campaigns for more than three decades, "the public at large is already on notice of the risks of unprotected sex,'' attorney Eric Multhaup said. A ruling is due within 90 days.

The couple, from Los Angeles County, married in July 2000. According to Bridget B.'s lawsuit, as described by an appeals court, she started suffering exhaustion and fevers two months later and tested positive for HIV. She said her husband, who had never seemed ill before the marriage, first showed signs of sickness in October 2001, though he later disclosed he had tested positive for HIV in October 2000. She said he told her for the first time in November 2001 that he had had sex with men before their marriage. Her suit accuses him of knowingly or negligently infecting her, claims that he denied. The case reached the state's high court after an appeals court ruled in 2004 that John B. would have to answer questions about when and how often he had had sex with men, though he would not have to reveal their names. That information is relevant, the appeals court said, because it might show that John should have known he was infected.

In arguments to the state Supreme Court, John B.'s lawyers said someone with a sexually transmitted disease should be held responsible for spreading it only if he had actually known he was ill. To allow a jury to decide whether he should have known of his infection, and disclosed it or taken precautions, invites intrusive and needless questioning about sexual practices, they said. "The disclosure of one's past sexual history can at most (provide) a speculative basis for a guesstimate about some indeterminate risk of infection,'' attorney Multhaup said in court papers. He and co-counsel Donald Garrard also argued that requiring John B. to disclose the number of his male sex partners would violate "the fundamental public policy against intrusive state action based on sexual orientation.''

Wrinkle, Bridget B.'s lawyer, responded that those who negligently spread infection should also be held responsible -- particularly within a marriage, where the law requires partners to look out for one another's interests. Limiting liability to those who knew they were ill "would reward the intentionally or recklessly ignorant.''


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