Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Let’s have real punishments for real crimes, but leave the rest of us alone
The big test of a criminal justice system is how well it catches and punishes the guilty, while leaving everyone else alone. Britain's system fails
Oh, some of last month’s looters got caught, and a few may now be getting their just deserts. Big deal. Authorities who can’t put down a riot are, by definition, no longer the authorities. Speaking generally, the police and courts in this country fail their big test.
Most non-violent thieves don’t get caught. If caught, they might be prosecuted. They might be convicted. They might get a punishment that’s more than a slap on the wrist. It’s all a question of might. Too often, it’s will not. The system soaks up oceans of the taxpayer’s money.
It employs armies of lawyers and probation officers and social workers. And, looking at reoffending rates, it doesn’t punish. It doesn’t deter. It doesn’t reform bad character.
Equally bad, the system goes after people whose acts shouldn’t be seen as criminal - indeed, whose acts were often not criminal until our own time.
Catch a thief and break his nose, and it’s you who get arrested. Smoke the wrong kind of cigarette, and get arrested. Smoke a normal cigarette in most “public” places, and get fined. Speak unkindly of someone whose face is a different colour, or whose God has a different name, and risk up to seven years inside. Turning back to the riots, suggest a criminal act on Facebook, and get four years inside - eight times more, that is, than most are getting for the actual crimes.
This is the system we have, and it emerged over 50 years from a debate between “liberals” and “conservatives” that both have won.
The first believe that criminals - unless guilty of “hate” - are basically good people who need help. The second just want a police state. Welcome to modern Britain!
We live in a country where the only people not scared of the police are those who should be. If we want a criminal justice system that works, we need to get out of this useless debate and go “back to basics.” We need a system that focuses the power of the State like a burning glass focuses the rays of the sun. It needs to put down crime and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives.
What I propose has three elements. First, we need to abolish every “crime” that doesn’t have an identifiable victim. It isn’t the law’s business if people smoke dope, or speak ill of minorities or refuse to do business with them, or if people keep guns at home, or collect books about bomb-making, or if they bribe foreign politicians, or even get involved in plots to kill them. Enforcing these laws leads straight to a police state and soaks up oceans of our money that could and should be spent on catching thieves and violent criminals.
Second, we need to go back to all those old common law rules that used to protect the innocent. We need the right to silence, and peremptory challenge of jurors - we need to stop the drift away from trial by jury. We need the rule against hearsay evidence, and the full presumption of innocence, and the rule against double jeopardy. Cutting down on these protections doesn’t make it easier to punish the guilty. It just enables more miscarriages of justice.
Third, we need to make sure that those found guilty of the remaining crimes are effectively punished. The idea that prison can reform bad character is stupid. People are what they are. If they go wrong, they should be punished in ways that the rest of us think just, and that scare them from reoffending. This may mean having a proper look at whether prison actually works. Until the 1820s, prisons were mostly places where people were detained pending trial. Punishment was usually death or flogging or transportation or a fine. Perhaps these punishments were often too harsh. But does penal servitude always do a better job? I don’t think so.
One alternative is a greater reliance on compensating victims. For example, you’ve burgled me. Well, you’ve cost me £3,000 for lost property, plus £5,000 for the fear and anxiety of a violated home. So you pay me £8,000. If you don’t have the money, you’re set to work on digging the roads or stitching mailbags until you’ve earned it. If you knocked me on the head when I found you in my home, you pay much more - and get a sound beating as well. If a sore back and tired hands don’t mend your ways - and note, it’s ways to be mended, not character - you get it all over again.
Yes, we still do need prisons. By their nature, murderers can’t compensate their victims. But the general idea is to provide real punishments for real crimes. It might cost less money. It might even give rioters something to think about. I doubt the present system does that.
"Guardian" let off the hook by UK police
Only conservative papers need to be investigated, apparently
LONDON police have abandoned their bid to force the Guardian newspaper to disclose the sources for its reports on the News International phone hacking affair.
Scotland Yard announced last Friday it had tried to obtain a court order under the Official Secrets Act to identify “evidence of potential offences resulting from unauthorised leaking of information”.
However, the Metropolitan Police Service has withdrawn the application following a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the country's public prosecutor. “The MPS has taken further legal advice this afternoon and as a result has decided not to pursue, at this time, the application for production orders,” a police spokesman said. “We have agreed with the CPS that we will work jointly with them in considering the next steps.”
The Guardian was at the forefront in uncovering the scale of phone hacking at the now closed News International publication the News of the World, owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The Met's decision to pursue the paper through the courts raised fears of a crackdown on investigative journalism.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger praised the decision to drop the “sinister” application. “We greatly welcome the Met's decision to withdraw this ill-judged order,” he said.
“Threatening reporters with the Official Secrets Act was a sinister new device to get round the protection of journalists' confidential sources. “We would have fought this assault on public interest journalism all the way. We're happy that good sense has prevailed,” he added.
The Met applied for the orders as part of Operation Weeting, its investigation into the hacking scandal.
Police thought the secrets act could have been breached in July when the newspaper revealed that the voicemail of a teenage murder victim had been hacked into. The story led to a public outcry and News of the World closed shortly afterwards.
Scotland Yard said the investigation into the alleged leaks by police staff to the press was still ongoing and was concerned with “establishing whether a police officer has leaked information, and gathering any evidence that proves or disproves that”.
“Despite recent media reports, there was no intention to target journalists or disregard journalists' obligations to protect their sources,” added the police spokesman.
“It is not acceptable for police officers to leak information about any investigation, let alone one as sensitive and high-profile as Operation Weeting.”
Scotland Yard maintained that the application had been made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act rather than the Official Secrets Act.
A Palestinian state?
by Jeff Jacoby
IF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY genuinely desired international recognition as a sovereign state, Mahmoud Abbas wouldn't have come to New York to seek membership in the UN General Assembly this week. There would have been no need to, for Palestine would have long since taken its seat in the United Nations.
Were Palestinian statehood Abbas's real goal, after all, he could have delivered it to his people three years ago. In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state on territory equal (after land swaps) to 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, with free passage between the two plus a capital in the Arab section of Jerusalem. Yet Abbas turned down the Israeli offer. And he has refused ever since even to engage in negotiations.
"It is our legitimate right to demand the full membership of the state of Palestine in the UN," Abbas declared in Ramallah on Friday, "to put an end to a historical injustice by attaining liberty and independence, like the other peoples of the earth."
But for the better part of a century, the Arabs of Palestine have consistently said no when presented with the chance to build a state of their own. They said no in 1937, when the British government, which then ruled Palestine, proposed to divide the land into separate Arab and Jewish states. Arab leaders said no again in 1947, choosing to go to war rather than accept the UN's decision to partition Palestine between its Jewish and Arab populations. When Israel in 1967 offered to relinquish the land it had acquired in exchange for peace with its neighbors, the Arab world's response, issued at a summit in Khartoum, was not one no, but three: "No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel."
At Camp David in 2000, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a sovereign state with shared control of Jerusalem and billions of dollars in compensation for Palestinian refugees. Yasser Arafat refused the offer, and returned to launch the deadly terror war known as the Second Intifada.
There is no shortage in this world of stateless peoples yearning for a homeland, many of them ethnic groups with centuries of history, unique in language and culture. Kurds or Tamils or Tibetans -- whose longstanding quests for a nation-state the world ignores -- must find it maddening to watch the international community trip over itself in its eagerness to proclaim, again and again, the need for a Palestinian state. And they must be baffled by the Palestinians' invariable refusal to take yes for an answer.
It is no mystery, however. The raison d'être of the Palestinian movement has never been the establishment and building-up of a sovereign Palestinian homeland. It has always been the negation of a sovereign Jewish homeland. That is why well-intended proposals for a "two-state solution" have never come to fruition, no matter how earnestly proposed by US presidents or UN secretaries-general. That is why the basic charter not just of Hamas but even of Abbas's supposedly moderate Fatah vows to continue the "armed struggle" until "the Zionist state is demolished." And that is why Abbas and other Palestinian leaders insist that a Palestinian state would be explicitly Arab and Muslim, but adamantly refuse to acknowledge that Israel is legitimately the Jewish state.
"Palestinian nationalism," Edward Said told an interviewer in 1999, "was based on driving all Israelis out." Sadly, it still is.
Last week, to kick off its campaign seeking UN recognition as a state, the Palestinian Authority staged a highly publicized march to the UN offices in Ramallah, where a letter was delivered for Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Officials named Latifa Abu Hmeid to lead the procession and hand over the letter. "She was chosen," reported the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, "because she is a symbol of Palestinian suffering as a result of the occupation."
What the paper did not mention is that Abu Hmeid is the mother of four murderers, whose sons are serving a total of 18 life sentences for their involvement in multiple terrorist attacks. According to Palestinian Media Watch, this is not the first time Abu Hmeid has been honored. Last year, the Palestinian Authority awarded her "the Plaque of Resoluteness and Giving," and a government minister publicly extolled her virtues: "It is she who gave birth to the fighters, and she deserves that we bow to her in salute and in honor."
It is this grotesque and bloody culture that Palestinian leaders want the UN to affirm as worthy of statehood. The wonder is not they make the request, but that anyone thinks it should be granted.
TWO COMMENTS ON GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS FOR PRESS CENSORSHIP
There are similar proposals in both Australia and Britain as a reaction to revelations of phone tapping by some British journalists. The comments below are from Australia and come first from a conservative writer and then a Left-leaning writer
The friction of freedom comes with open debate
Janet Albrechtsen opposes press censorship from the Right
FOR most of his time in the White House, Ronald Reagan faced the sort of media hostility that our Prime Minister could only imagine in her worst nightmares. Yet the former Republican president had the right attitude when it came to sections of the media that irritated him. During his address to the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April 1987, the Gipper said: "I'm sure we get exasperated with one another but that's just the friction of freedom."
As Tim Graham wrote in the National Review a few days after Reagan's death in June 2004, Reagan managed to transform America despite an antagonistic media. And critically, Graham noted: "He did it all before Fox News. He did it all before the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon. He did it all before the instant battle cry of his defenders could hit the internet." No doubt, certain politicians, academics and Fairfax journalists will probably avert their eyes at the very mention of Reagan. Yet they are surely in need of a refresher course on Freedom 101, given the new paternalism creeping into Canberra. The latest target of this paternalism is the print media. In fact, the target is narrower than that. The Gillard government and the Greens appear to have News Limited in their sights. Australians should not forget the history to this inquiry. It is a mix of political opportunism, revenge and ideology.
Opportunistic because the idea of an inquiry grew out of the News of the World phone-hacking scandals in Britain despite the absence of any phone hacking in Australia. Recall the Prime Minister announcing the day after the parliamentary testimonies of Rupert Murdoch and his son James in London that News Limited, the Australian arm of Murdoch's media empire, had "hard questions" to answer. By failing to provide details of those hard questions, Gillard's attack was simply an exercise in political expediency.
Vengeful because the Gillard government and the Greens have launched a curious public campaign against News Limited newspapers for daring to report, analyse and criticise its policies. Recall Greens leader Bob Brown, who labelled The Australian the "hate media", and Labor senator Doug Cameron concluding that "the biggest problem for democracy is the behaviour of The Australian and the Murdoch press". And last week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described The Daily Telegraph as the "worst example" of a campaigning media, best read only for its sports pages. Ideological because there is something in the DNA of left-wing parties and politicians that reveals an illiberal attitude to press freedom in particular and free debate more generally.
At the micro level, the Gillard government's focus on the print media is a prime example of its paternalism. Conroy has not ruled out licensing the print media. By succumbing to the Greens, Gillard has effectively agreed with Brown that readers are too dim to read newspapers without an inquiry to guide them. That they are too stupid to discern bias, too influenced by the media and require government-instigated protection from newspapers -- especially those that disagree with the government and the Greens.
At the macro level, the very public protests against News Limited point to an all-too-familiar disregard for open debate. As former foreign minister Alexander Downer told The Australian last week, the Labor government is echoing the ideology of most leftist movements, which "expect a certain level of obedience from the media and when they don't get it they get terribly angry". That anger, so evident in comments from Gillard, her ministers, backbenchers, the Greens and their supporters in the media and academe, has the whiff of totalitarianism. Expecting the media to echo your political agendas, and getting angry when they don't, is rather fascist.
Like Reagan, John Howard faced a torrent of media hostility throughout his 12 years as prime minister. Even The Australian went hard against the Howard government on issues such as the bribery scandals at the Australian Wheat Board, the arrest and detention of Mohamed Haneef, the events surrounding the children overboard affair and so on. While Howard ministers corrected inaccuracies, there was no public outcry from the government over bias. Like Reagan, Howard saw it as the friction of freedom.
Alas, freedom doesn't count for much in certain left-wing salons. And that's why The Australian's weekend analysis of Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay is so important. Some have asked why this newspaper devoted so much space and so many words to challenge one Melbourne intellectual mostly unknown outside inner-city circles. In fact, contesting Manne's claims of bias against The Australian is an efficient way of contesting a broader leftist mindset long opposed to free debate. On that front, here's a little more history.
The arrival of commentators who challenged left-wing orthodoxy has upset many on the Left. Not just Manne, who has written fondly of the period between the rise of Gough Whitlam and the fall of Paul Keating, when the Australian commentariat was "overwhelmingly of a mildly left-liberal disposition". (Ergo, he bemoans the entry into the national conversation in the mid-1990s of what he calls "the dominant voices", "the attack dogs of the Right".)
Indeed, many on the Left have never quite understood or accepted the notion of diversity and free speech. Barely two weeks after the election of the Rudd government in 2007, people such as Crikey's Guy Rundle and the ABC's Jon Faine suggested we needed to purge conservative columnists at The Australian. It was time to "clean house", said Rundle, because conservatives "have no dialogue with the times". This mob does not really fancy free speech. Unless you agree with their sentiments.
That's why contesting Manne's criticism matters. And Manne and his illiberal comrades are not short on hypocrisy. Those calling for a purge of conservatives were not long ago complaining that Howard had stifled dissent within the media. Howard stifling dissent? No, what the stifling dissent crowd object to is the friction of freedom. Whereas previously people such as Manne had largely dominated the intellectual conversation in this country, the emergence of new voices means they have to share the stage with irritating opinions and analysis that challenge their views.
There are some long faces lamenting Conroy's inquiry will not go far enough. Take Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review: "The government has neutered any chance of a decent policy review." In fact, anyone genuinely concerned with open debate ought to be lamenting the Gillard government's eagerness to regulate newspapers. After all, if you don't like a newspaper, you don't have to buy it. And if you want to start up your own, feel free to do so. You can tweet, blog, start up your own online newspaper with little cost. Unless the Gillard government decides that regulation is needed to protect readers from activities at the heart of a modern liberal society. And how terribly illiberal that would be.
Let no one license truth and understanding
Jonathan Holmes opposes press censorship from the Left
WE must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks.
THUS John Milton in Areopagitica, his tirade against the licensing by British parliament of books and pamphlets in 1644. Milton failed to beat back the tide of censorship. Yet by the 1690s the attempt to license and regulate the printing presses had failed in England. An Australian government now seems to be contemplating a new attempt to "mark and license" knowledge in the land.
The federal government's convergence review that has been quietly proceeding for most of this year is looking at those parts of the media that have always been regulated by the state, radio and television. How should the rules that used to apply to them be recast to be relevant in an era when all media are converging into the digital stream?
The new media inquiry announced by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, will ask the same question about the print media, on paper and online. How should they be regulated? How do we strengthen the Australian Press Council?
The Press Council has its own ideas about that. A "draft discussion note" has been posted on its website.
In principle, it says, "a unified system should apply to the setting of standards and handling of complaints" for all news and opinion, no matter what the medium: TV, radio, newspapers, in print, on air or online.
The core of the system would be an independent council, modelled on the Australian Press Council (a voluntary, self-regulated body) as opposed to a statutory regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
But the discussion note is full of terms that make the system sound a lot less voluntary and a lot more statutory than the present Press Council. The new council would have the "power to require" this and "to call for" that. There would be "statutory inducements" to persuade media players to sign up. And the council could refer complaints about especially egregious media sins to "a specially established panel" that "should have statutory powers to require provision of information and to impose fines or other punitive sanctions".
In one sense this isn't surprising. The minister made it plain at his press conference that he considers the Press Council, at present, to be a "toothless tiger". And he said he would be open to a statutory regulator such as the ACMA being given authority over all news and opinion, in print and online.
The Press Council clearly feels that to head off the threat of fully fledged state regulation some concessions are needed in the direction of a tougher regimen, backed at some point by statutory powers.
Well, in my opinion that's conceding too much. It would be to turn at least 150 years of history on its head.
There is, or should be, a clear difference between regulation of the broadcast media and self-regulation of the press.
Broadcasters are subject to regulation because they are licensed semi-monopolists.
Free-to-air commercial TV and radio stations are granted a license to use the frequency spectrum, a common good, to make money for private investors. In return, they pay dues to the government, and they agree to submit to various rules that govern their broadcasts: how much advertising they will carry in an hour; how much Australian content in a week; how much children's content; and so on.
They also agree to abide by codes of practice drawn up by themselves but overseen by the statutory regulator, the ACMA. Those codes, in theory at least, commit them to report the news accurately and current affairs fairly.
But newspapers never needed spectrum or any other public good. Anybody can set up a printing press and churn out a rag. Other than the law of the land, there is not now, and has not been for generations, any state regulation of printed news.
It's true that for decades the freedom to set up a newspaper has been a merely theoretical liberty. It simply has been too expensive for just anyone to do. In recognition of that, governments have laid down rules about who can own how much media.
In the late 1980s, under Labor's watch, new rules designed to prevent one owner from dominating all the media in a particular market led instead to Rupert Murdoch's News Limited dominating the newspaper market through much of Australia.
That's done, and cannot be undone, at least by politicians. Technology, however, may be doing what they cannot.
Of course, News Limited still dominates the news agenda in most cities in Australia. Radio talkback hosts across the country still scan The Daily Telegraph, or the Herald Sun, or The Advertiser or The Courier-Mail, for the talking point of the day. ABC breakfast shows still take their cues from the front page of The Australian.
On the other hand, any citizen who wants to engage with world, national, state or local affairs has a hundred choices they didn't have 10 years ago, from chat rooms to blogs to community websites.
Yet just as, for the first time in decades, genuine media diversity is being made possible by the new technologies, we are suddenly talking about licenses and regulations, and codes of practice, and statutory enforcement, and state regulators, for the printed word?
At his press conference, Conroy solemnly read out the first three clauses of News Limited's Professional Conduct Policy and declared that in his view The Daily Telegraph was regularly in breach of all of them.
At Media Watch, we agree. We made the same point two months ago, and again on Monday night. But any attempt to fine or legislate that paper, or any other, into fairness would probably fail and would certainly cost too much in terms of our traditional liberties.
So, by all means, let's try to find a way to beef up and properly fund the Australian Press Council. Let's grapple with the vexed issue of how the blogosphere, from Crikey to Kangaroo Court, can be persuaded to submit to its adjudications.
But it should surely remain, in essence, a voluntary system. The state, and statutory regulators, should have nothing to do with it. We do not need an ACMA to levy fines on wayward bloggers.
The printing presses of the 1640s, through which the Levellers and the Diggers were able to spread their revolutionary creeds, have given way to the stream of 1s and 0s that enable any ratbag or rebel -- as well as, of course, the paid columnists of global moguls such as Murdoch -- to rant and rave.
And Milton's arguments are as valid now as they were then: "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolised and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards."
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.