Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Send all violent criminals to court: Top British judge warns far too many are being given just a caution
England's most senior judge has demanded an end to a criminal justice scandal which sees thousands of violent and persistent offenders getting off with cautions. Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said that thugs who injure others should always be taken before the courts rather than being given a slap on the wrist – so they have to answer to magistrates for their crimes.
He told MPs that it was ‘demeaning’ to the victims of violent crimes if prosecutors do not bother taking offenders to court, which could see them being sent to jail. The intervention is a direct attack on the Crown Prosecution Service and on Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who wants to see fewer offenders go to jail and fewer courts to try them in.
Last year 27,305 people guilty of violence against the person were let off with a caution after pleading guilty – 39 per cent of the total number of violent offenders. It is believed they include people guilty of conspiracy to murder, kidnapping, child neglect and inflicting life-threatening wounds. Joyriders who kill people have even got off in the past.
Critics say the cautions do nothing to instill confidence in the public that justice is being done.
Lord Judge said he also wanted to see all persistent offenders being forced to go to court. Between 2000 and 2008, half a million are let off with cautions after four or more offences.
There are fears the situation will get worse as a result of Mr Clarke’s plans to cut the number of people being sent to jail by scrapping sentences of six months or less.
Lord Judge made his comments days after clashing with the Justice Secretary over his plans to close dozens of courts, which has also led to fears that fewer criminals will face magistrates. Appearing before the Commons justice select committee yesterday, Lord Judge said he accepted that in some cases, a person of good character ‘does something silly’ in what is clearly a one-off incident – meaning they could be safely given a caution.
But he added: ‘I do actually feel that in relation to persistent offenders; if they offend, they should be brought to court. The judgment should be made by the court. ‘And I believe that somebody who commits an offence of violence which causes injury should be brought to court. It’s a matter of public record then. ‘And there’s the issue of how victims feel about a non-appearance in court. It’s demeaning of a victim of a violent crime to be told, “We are not going to take this individual to court”.’
He said it was right and proper for the CPS to decide not to take a case forward if there is not enough evidence. But he added: ‘You can’t, in my view, not take a case which includes violence against a person to court simply because it’s not a good idea. If you’ve got the evidence, you should take them to court and let the magistrates decide.’
Criminologist David Green, director of the Civitas think tank, said: ‘Everyone in the criminal world regards a caution as essentially nothing, and they send the message to the victim that they are of little consequence.’ He added: ‘If Mr Clarke continues on the road he has set out on, it is hard to see any other consequence than the number of cautions for violent offences going up.’
Not sending someone to court is called an ‘out-of-court disposal’ and is given to those who admit they are guilty. But they are supposed to be handed out only for minor offences. However, as well as being given to those who have committed violence, they are being given to persistent offenders.
In 2007, the last year for which figures were published, 357 cautions were given to people guilty of threat of conspiracy to murder, 43 per cent of the total offenders. A total of 276 cautions were handed out to those guilty of wounding or other acts endangering life; 1,175 for cruelty or neglect of children; 30 for child abduction; three for abandoning a child under two years and two for procuring an illegal abortion. One person was even cautioned for causing death by aggravated vehicle taking.
Lord Judge, who has a long reputation of standing up for common-sense justice, wrote to Mr Clarke last week to demand a re-think of plans to close 157 magistrates and county courts in a bid to save £2billion.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘We would normally expect those accused of committing violent offences to be brought to court. The more serious the offence the more important it is that the offender be prosecuted. ‘Operational decisions in individual cases are a matter for the police and CPS on the ground.’
British government to crack down on legal piranhas at last
No-win, no-fee deals are to be scrapped under a radical shake-up of the courts to stop ambulance-chasing lawyers from cashing in on frivolous cases. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced yesterday that he will scrap lucrative success fees which allow lawyers to double their bill at the expense of the person or organisation that loses the case.
NHS trusts have been driven to pay up before a case comes to court to avoid the peril of huge costs of going to trial.
The payouts have been blamed for having a ‘chilling’ effect on freedom of speech since they have driven scientists, writers and newspapers to settle even flimsy accusations of libel out of court rather than risk the huge costs of losing a case.
Britain will now move to a system in which lawyers take a share of the damages awarded to the winner – the same as the American system. Damages are likely to be increased by 10 per cent to ensure that those who win a case still receive the money they deserve.
Mr Clarke said he has accepted the findings of a review by Lord Justice Jackson, published earlier this year. He recommended an end to the top-up fees for lawyers, which make the loser pay a penalty of 100 per cent of the costs, and found that some made off with fees costing ten times the level of the damages awarded.
Labour had intended to slash ‘success fees’ to 10 per cent of costs. But the Justice Secretary has decided to scrap them altogether.
Mr Clarke told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme: ‘You should not have a situation where, regardless of however frivolous the claim is, the sensible thing for the defendant to do is to settle, get out, before the legal costs start running up.’
The Ministry of Justice is now working on plans for legislation to be introduced early next year.
In a second move, the Government plans to strengthen freedom of speech, by introducing protections that will stop libel laws being used to stifle free expression and censor books and newspapers. Mr Clarke plans to introduce an explicit defence of public interest to enshrine freedom of expression, as well as preserving the right of public figures to protect their reputation.
Legislation on that will be drawn up next year and could come into force in 2012.
Taken together, Ministry of Justice officials say the new guidelines will ensure that legitimate libel cases can go ahead but prevent big corporations from silencing academics and journalists who make fair criticism of their activities.
The issue was highlighted when science writer Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association after he claimed there was little evidence chiropractic treatments helped children with asthma. The BCA eventually dropped the case but only after Mr Singh had lost two years earnings and run up £20,000 legal costs.
Hollywood mocks Christians
The plot of Easy A is centered on a rumour that teenager Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is “easy” or promiscuous. Here’s the catch, she’s actually a virgin who pretends to be sexually involved with her male classmates to improve their social status.
Just as the parental review stated, the antagonists are self-righteous “Christians” at her school who condemn her sinful nature and label her the school outcast. Sound like the plot of a Hollywood teen Box Office hit?
You bet, and it seems that throwing in a dash of Christian ridicule doesn’t hurt either. Anti-Christian sentiments almost always got a laugh at the session I was at.
Easy A is not the only Hollywood production profiting from the inclusion of token annoying Christian characters. You may recall Springfield’s most devout Christians, the Flander’s family. They’re the “other” nuclear family.
Unlike the Simpsons they’re helpful, kind and conscientious. If they were new age hippies we’d probably love them but for some reason the ‘Jesus’ thing always throws us off.
Here’s one for the Gleeks, Jesus-fan Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) is head of the cheerleading squad and president of the Christian celibacy club. The popular blonde wears a crucifix around her neck and loses her virginity to her boyfriend’s best friend and tries to convince her boyfriend it’s his baby. Once again we are not let down by a paradoxical ‘Jesus’ loving character.
Next stop The Office. Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Enter Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey), head of accounting at Dunder Mifflin. The uptight, judgmental blonde is famous for being a conservative Christian who cheats on her fiancé. The character has stated that if she were stranded on a deserted island she would take three books the Bible, The Purpose Driven Life and The Da Vinci Code.
If you’re confused about the latter, it’s only so she could burn it. Funny, right? It’s okay to laugh, but are Christians unjustly stereotyped on screen?
Justine Toh, Senior Fellow with the Centre for Public Christianity, stated that “we’re seeing a lazy stereotype on screen which portrays Christians as judgmental, harsh, ignorant, ultra-conservative, uptight, and hypocritical: in other words, the ultimate killjoy.”
Toh said that she understands where the stereotypes stem from, “because some people’s experience of Christians and Christianity has been overwhelmingly negative.”
Many have commented on the nature of filmmaking. Even independent filmmakers have come forth about their social responsibility. Film producer/activist Trudie Styler told Inside Film Magazine said she would only create socially conscious films. “We must be extremely responsible and accountable as filmmakers,” said Styler.
Professor Haire sees things differently, “I do not think that filmmakers have any particular responsibility in this area. The market will decide on their value.”
Toh agrees, “If filmmakers want to make movies featuring conservative, uptight Christians, that’s fine. They exist. But I hope the cinema-going public isn’t satisfied with such overly simplistic portrayals.”
So, is there a decline in religious worship by younger generations and can it be linked to how religion is depicted on screen? “In Western societies there is a decline in religious devotion. However there is a growth in the religious devotion in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America… where perceptions in the media are quite different,” responds Professor Haire.
Now back to the dilemma of whether Easy A is an appropriate film to take my younger, more impressionable cousin to see. I decided to take the road not taken, I said ‘no’ and took her to Luna Park instead. One week later she told me she saw the film.
“What did you think about that Christian character? Does she make you not want to be a Christian?” I asked inquisitively. “She was funny, but I don’t take it that seriously,” my cousin replied. Her response was reassuring, I guess there’s still hope for the younger generation.
Toxic suspicion of men
Comment from Australia
When did we start to dislike men so much that we're happy for them not to be part of our children's lives? That's the question posed by the latest ridiculous assault on the integrity of all males. It comes in the form of a ban on schoolboys using a public pool change room after swimming lessons because men fear they will be falsely accused of pedophilia.
Of course, the fact that many men support that decision is understandable; any man now knows he is automatically viewed with suspicion. That's why our children might sneak through the entire education system now without a male teacher. It's why men stopped jogging along bike tracks, when the city was on the lookout for the bikeway rapist. It's why airline staff try not to seat adult males next to children. And it's why most fathers I know won't supervise their young daughters' play dates, unless there is a female adult present.
The distrust of males has been creeping up on us, fanned by the sick minds of a few who have stolen the innocence of children, and left heartache in their wake. But can you now be guilty simply by gender?
Alan from Brisbane has this story: he was at South Bank when he saw a small girl, about four years old, wandering along the river's edge and crying. He watched as more than 30 people walked by without helping. He stopped one of them, a woman, and asked her to help him help the child. "I told her why - I'd be accused of being a pedophile," he said. "If that little girl had fallen into the river and I dived in after her I'd be on the front page as a hero; but when she was only 30cm from falling in I'd be called a pedophile." How did we allow ourselves to get to the point, he wrote on a Daily Telegraph blog, where caring people are considered pedophiles?
Just stop reading this, and ask the man sitting nearest to you. His reaction would probably mirror Alan's - because society has made men feel that way. This is another Brisbane man on the same blog: "I know a teacher who was accused of rape by a schoolgirl because he refused her advances, and he lost his job, his wife, his kids and his life. Never mind that she admitted it and cleared him. This culture has to change, or this sort of rule will become more common."
It seems it already has. After revelations of the Sydney pool decision, several people joined the debate, saying it had become standard practice in Brisbane. Rory said it was happening at his children's school: "The poor little buggers were freezing coming home from the pool - about 10 minutes drive - and had to change into their dry clothes at school. "It's ridiculous! If society keeps running on fear, its going to become a pretty hollow environment to live in."
Ann of Brisbane: "Our school has been doing this for years. The kids wrap themselves in towels and sit on the bus for 20 minutes in wet togs." These are boys made to feel bad because of their gender.
Allan, from the Gold Coast, explains it this way: "Why would a male teacher want to put himself in that position? All it takes is for some smart-alec kid to joke about a male teacher perving on him and (his) professional life is over . . ."
Matt of Perth: "I like this rule. You're in more danger of being falsely accused than you are of actually being a victim."
Aaron: "The last thing you want to be doing is changing from your swimming gear to work clothes or vice versa and find out a couple days later you've been accused of exposing yourself or something of the kind."
The Doc of Sydney: "I cannot get out of the pool change room fast enough if children are there as I have no defence against a false allegation."
Clancy: "I would have thought banning parents from taking pictures of their children at the beach would have been enough to wake people up from this insane pedophile mania . . . but apparently not."
Someone else: "Why don't you just stop males from being teachers to protect the student, or just stop fathers from being parents to their sons, in case they get branded a pedophile."
John from Alice Springs calls it "pedophobia", but its consequences are bigger than that. We're creating a generation of young boys who don't have confidence in their own sexuality; sons who think their gender marks them as bad; and daughters who grow up with few, if any, male role models. And in that scenario, men and women lose out.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.