Wednesday, January 18, 2006

'There just ain’t no justice,….

…..the cold girls should get the fur coats.' The proposals to speed up the process for fining antisocial behaviourers (?) are getting a rough ride. Much of this is coming from the legal profession and those associated with it. Some is coming from liberal theoreticians.

Worryingly, seventeenth century philosophers are being invoked to support both sides of the argument. Back then only a few thousand Englishmen would have had any recourse to anything like what we know today as the legal system. Magnus Linklater in the Times today rather lets the cat out. He quotes Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) “If a man be interrogated by the sovereign or his authority, concerning a crime done by himself, he is not bound (without assurance of pardon) to confess it; because no man . . . can be obliged by covenant to accuse himself.”

Now I know the locals worthy and busybodies who sit on the bench in your local magistrates’ court carry, at least in theory, the authority of the sovereign, but I don’t think they are quite what Mr H had in mind. Perhaps we all like to imagine that defence barristers all model themselves on Rumpole of the Bailey and get deeply involved with their clients before bringing about minor triumphs for justice and freedom.

But it isn’t like that. In reality a barrister will usually know as much or as little about their client as would the official in the prosecutor’s office who, under the proposals, would determine the sentence for those pleading guilty.

As for the Police fitting people up and getting them a criminal record, neither of these seem to me to be more or less likely than they are under the present arrangements. And I’m confident that sensible potential employers will take as little notice of such convictions as motor insurance firms take of speeding fines i.e. none unless there are lots of them.

Something has to be done to increase the chances of wrong-doers suffering some penalty. And yes we need carrots in addition to sticks. But at present the balance seems to be to far weighted in favour of the yobs.

Mr Linklater doesn’t agree. But the paragraph I quote below suggests to me that he’s a bit out of touch with the realities of the present system of local justice:

“Everyone, whether pleading guilty or innocent, is entitled to it, and the magistrate or sheriff who hears the case is duty-bound to inquire into every relevant detail — the circumstances of the arrest, the weight of police evidence and the personal background of the accused. The idea that all this should be determined in the privacy of a prosecutor’s office, on the say-so of a police officer, and on the basis of a signed plea, is to turn the founding principle of the British legal system on its head.”

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