THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Crime & Punishment" Feed

Sticks and stones - again

BBC News - Football fans jailed for abusive Stephen Lawrence chants.

Some thick young men have been given sentences of twelve and eighteen months for uttering bad words. They now block six prison places that could more usefully have been occupied by people convicted of violent crimes or even such crimes against property as our socialist police force can be bothered to detect.

Do I really need to say that I disapprove of the words uttered? I would certainly never invite such people to dinner. However, now that criminal records render them even less employable, we will probably be buying their dinners for a long time after they have finished their porridge. Perhaps even when they are no longer young idiots with poor taste and worse judgement and could have been useful members of society.

Man the trains with burly bouncers and chuck people off if they make a nuisance - even in ways less odious than this. If someone is provoked to violence by nasty words, let him use that provocation as a defence or mitigation when charged with assault. But let's get the criminal law out of speech please.

Nudge nudge

BBC News - Can you persuade people not to buy stolen goods?

The British authorities now seem to have placed property criminals on the 'too difficult' pile. The authors of a new "report" say that those who steal take so little interest in the law that they don't even know the relevant punishments. Surprise, surprise.

Given the rates of recidivism in Britain, knowing the punishment seems to make little difference. Some might suggest that's because (a) the detection rate is so low as to make criminals think they were just unlucky to be caught and (b) the sentences are an inadequate deterrent for those without concern for reputation. However, the British state never chooses to do a job better if it can give itself a new job instead. 

What does a criminal do when faced with a tough potential victim? Look for a weaker one. Likewise, as the state can't (within the constraints of current ideology) influence criminals as it would wish, it turns its sights on the rest of us. Knowingly receiving stolen goods has, of course, been a crime for centuries but
The authors of the submission suggest, as a first step, the default position should be that anyone found in possession of stolen goods be prosecuted under the Theft Act.
If it turns out the laptop you bought on eBay was stolen by the seller, are you to be prosecuted for the new crime of "possession of stolen goods?" 

My criminal law tutor at university thought me odd for disliking crimes of "strict liability." I preferred (and still do) the traditional formula that a crime must involve both mens rea and actus reus (an intention as well as an act). Of course prosecutors prefer purely factual crimes - like having a stolen laptop in your house - to the hassle of having to prove you knew it was stolen. That's just one more good reason why the preferences of prosecutors should never be considered in creating criminal law.

This new proposal is presented as a trendy 'nudge' solution. It certainly isn't if it involves creating a new crime of 'possession'. That would be a bog-standard use of state violence. If the report's authors are proposing a change in prosecution policy so that everyone found in possession of stolen goods is taken to court, it's no better. That would be an extreme example of  'process as punishment' as well as a monumental waste of police and prosecution resources.

Would dragging people through the courts when even the police and Crown Prosecutors believe them innocent really be an effective way of winning hearts and minds? I doubt it. It would create a lot of public sector 'jobs' though and make more people more afraid of state power.

I wish I had said that...

Spare Me – and Walter Williams – Your Self-Serving and Insulting Sermonizing

...because I have often thought it.

I respect ordinary thieves much more than I respect politicians. Ordinary thieves take my money without pretense. Unlike typical politicians, these thieves don’t bore me with silly explanations of why their thievery is for the greater good. Nor do ordinary thieves insult my intelligence by proclaiming that they’ll use the money that they steal from me to make my life better than I would have made my life had my money not been swiped from me.
Don't get Professor Williams or me wrong. For my part, I hate criminals. I want fewer laws partly because the ones that matter - against violence and fraud - could then be enforced more vigorously. Criminals have stolen from us not just our property, but the sense of personal security I remember growing up. No-one locked their doors in our street, because no-one had to. How many of us feel as safe in our own homes today?

But at least, as Professor Williams points out (and as I experienced directly when I practised criminal law) thieves don't ask to be respected by their victims. In this respect, they are more honest than politicians.

It is possible to be a decent politician if you go into it to get the state off people's backs and are able - in the face of all the temptations on offer to the masters of a state spending half what its citizens earn, to remain true to that purpose. Margaret Thatcher was one such, but then look what a revealing rage she inspired in regular politicians.

h/t the most excellent Café Hayek

Thought-crime in Britain

BBC News - The hidden epidemic of hate crime

WarispeaceWhen I was asked, a year after my return to Britain, what was the biggest change I had noticed, I answered that the police now seem more interested in what you say than what you do. The notion of freedom of speech, thought and conscience has been replaced with an ill-thought-through and damaging idea of 'not causing offence' and not being a 'hater.'

In its worst form, this new doctrine is expressed in the notion of 'hate crime;' the Orwellian concept of 'thought crime' disguised with Orwellian euphemism. Read the BBC piece linked above and - if you are steeped in the new doctrine - you will be wondering if I want the right to attack the property and persons of people who are 'different.' That's the conventional response to any challenge to the new 'thinking', as well as being a prime example of it.

I claim no such right. Nor did I ever have one before the law was changed. Every assault, every item of damage described in the linked piece was always a crime under English Law. Even in less tolerant eras, when goths, gays and others who were 'different' by nature or choice could expect a hard time, it was a crime to kill them, assault them or destroy their property. The police might have needed to consider motivation in order to identify the accused and bring him to court, but the jury did not need to consider it in deciding his guilt nor the judge in determining his sentence.

The root of this doctrine is that certain motives make crimes worse. Yet, if I am being beaten to death, my suffering will be no worse if it's because my assailants are prejudiced against the heavy or tall 'communities'. Consider this thought experiment; you are gay and you are being beaten to death by a homophobe. You take some time to die from your wounds. With your dying breaths you convince him not to hate gays anymore. Are you less dead? The assault was the problem to you, not the thought behind it. 

It may not do so at the moment (ironically because the same 'intellectuals' who have given us the notion of 'hate crime' have found 'social' excuses for less 'misguided' criminals) the law is perfectly capable of dealing with violent crimes. It defines them clearly and could punish them vigorously. But the criminals' motives should always be irrelevant to guilt and sentencing because any other approach is unjust.

For once my argument is rooted in a concept dear to the hearts of the leftist 'intellectuals' behind this nonsense; equality. I believe in equality before the law and the 'hate crime' doctrine is inimical to that. If every man and woman (trans or cis) is equal before the law then this follows logically. If the same wrong is done to any of them, the legal consequence must be the same.

Kill me or kill my gay friend. Assault me or assault my goth friend. Be culpably negligent in the crowd control at a Fulham match or at a Liverpool match and the legal outcome should be the same. The law should be utterly blind to our sexual orientation, the way we present ourselves to the world and whether or not we are Scousers convinced that we hang on a unique cross of Liverpudlian suffering.

Nothing could be more obvious or more just, but this stupid doctrine of hate-crime is engineering the precise opposite. In terms of justice then, it makes no sense. That's because it is designed to achieve something quite different. It is designed to chill free speech. Before you utter a word, serious or in jest, you are now supposed to hesitate fearfully and consider whether you may be guilty of 'hate speech'. Because if you are, you can now expect this.

I know it's hard for many steeped in Fabian propaganda to grasp, but the monster in that Daily Mail story is not Old Holborn. I have had a couple of drinks with him and read his blog regularly. He goes too far sometimes by my standards of good taste and good manners, but I defend without reservation his right to express and publish his views, satirical or not. It is - or should be - shocking that in modern Britain his jokes about, and mockery of, Scousers should expose him to criminal sanctions. The only crimes in the story are those threatened by the totalitarian scum campaigning to silence him.

OH is a bad example because I support his views. I understand his desire to use shock tactics to expose and challenge the use of state force to chill freedom of expression. It's easy to support the free speech of those you mostly agree with. So let's be clear that I also support the rights of far nastier people too. Racists, anti-semites, homophobes, Fabians and self-pitying Liverpudlians* are also entitled to express their views, however odious they may be. Though not, of course, to act upon them in any violent way.

Hate-crime and political correctness (insofar as reflected in law) are two aspects of the same insidious doctrine. Together they make thought-crime, as predicted by George Orwell. For the sake of all of us - of whatever colour, creed or sexual inclination - that must be resisted.

*Me gran was a scouser and I have supported Liverpool FC all me life (though I have a Fulham season ticket now coz even in Chiswick me car's already parked too close to the 'Pool for my liking) so get over it.

More enforcement, not more laws


There is a proposal in the United States to extend background checks so that everyone selling a gun - not just a licensed dealer as at present - must first check out their buyer. It sounds innocuous, yes? Who could possibly disapprove? After all, it's not in the interests of law-abiding gun owners for more criminals to have guns. But here's the point. Seventy-six thousand background checks last year detected criminals trying to buy guns. Yet the police prosecuted only thirteen. If there are no consequences when a background check detects a crime, what exactly is the point of having more checks?

This illustrates a key problem with modern politicians - and not just in the USA. They prefer the publicity value of being seen to make new laws to the hard slog of making current ones work. They would rather appear to do something than - well - actually do something. Which is why we have thousands of laws on the books that criminalise virtually everyone, while those committing the handful of crimes that actually matter generally go about their business undisturbed.
If the money spent on debating, promoting and implementing this new law were given instead to the police to be used for enforcement, how many bad guys would be off the streets? Why doesn't that count as "doing something" any more?

How the British state wastes your money

BBC News - Domestic abuse victim admits harassment charge.

His "ex" tries to contact him on his release from prison. The women he abused so violently as to land him there. Does she call him repeatedly? Does she camp out on his doorstep and refuse to go away? No, she messages him on Facebook.

He complains to the police and the matter ends up in court. Why? He could unfriend her. He could hide her messages. She presented no threat to him. Quite the contrary. How can her actions possibly justify spending taxpayers' money on a court hearing? Who, for that matter, told this man that the state is there to screen his messages and deal with the dramas arising from his relationships? Why did he not end up in court for wasting police time (and our money)?

I cannot understand how anyone can justify this level of state involvement in personal lives. Nor how such matters can be given such serious attention by the police when none of the crimes against me were given any of their time at all - beyond issuing a crime number for my insurance.

The British State is run for the benefit of the dregs of our society. We respectable citizens are nothing to it but the source of its funds. Let's not debate how libertarian our ideal society would be when surely we can all agree that a state policing the Facebook messaging of its underclass is in serious need of scaling back.

There is nothing Conservative about this Government

Anthony Peto QC: A very un-British Bill – my response to Robert Buckland MP.

Conservatives are supposed to defend ancient rights. In their hands the great principles of English Law such as "innocent until proven guilty" and the rules of Natural Justice should be much safer than with progressives who openly seek to sweep away ancient rights to build a new order.

Yet it was John Major who began the present un-conservative trend when he abolished the right to silence - a key element of the presumption of innocence. If a man is accused, it is for the prosecutors to make the case against him. Nothing should properly be inferred from his refusal to co-operate. So it used to be, but no more.

And now it's Ken Clarke who is sweeping into the trash can of history the principle of open justice. He is seeking to introduce secret courts in circumstances where "national security" is at stake. What does "national security" mean in such a context? Anthony Petro QC tells us in the linked article that evidence about a confession having been extracted by torture
...was successfully suppressed by the government on the grounds that it would damage national security...
Not exactly the most encouraging example.

Clarke tells us that we need secret courts to protect our intelligence sharing relationships with other countries. David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, has branded that a "scare tactic".

Former DPP Lord Maconald has said that 
Mr Clarke’s comments look like a smokescreen for plans which are aimed not at keeping the British people safe, but at sparing the embarrassment of the security services when they get mixed up in wrongdoing. Instead of promoting this thoroughly un-British legislation, which is designed to make our courts secret as though we were living in Europe in the 1930s, Mr Clarke and his colleagues in government should concentrate on holding the security agencies to account when they break the law.
Lest you think that these are just the voices of lily-livered sympathisers with our enemies, consider the words of the former top legal advisor to the British Army in Iraq, Colonel Nicholas Mercer
The justice and security bill has one principal aim and that is to cover up UK complicity in rendition and torture. The bill is an affront to the open justice on which this country rightly prides itself and, above all, it is an affront to human dignity.
The fact that some of those individuals who are complicit in rendition and torture can not only assist in the drafting of the bill but also vote to cover their tracks is a constitutional scandal.
The bill attacks the sacred principle of the Rule of Law that "be you never so high, the law is above you." It removes a citizen's right to bring a civil action against high officials for violations of their personal rights. As Anthony Peto QC says, 
These rights are so fundamental that for centuries they have been called the rules of “natural justice”.  This brand of justice has “Made in England” stamped all over it. It is our proudest and most enduring national product. This Bill would tarnish the brand for ever.
Could there conceivably be anything less "Conservative"?

Why can't our security services, like those in other countries, give evidence in court? If that threatens the secrecy of their activities, they can give evidence from behind a screen and via a voice changer, provided the judge is duly satisfied of their status. Then their evidence could be tested, they could be cross examined and justice could be done. Yet the British State prefers to screen them from scrutiny. It prefers to suppress evidence of their wrong-doing. It is entirely out of its box; a self-regarding beast operating in its own, not the national, interest. 

I have never been more sure that the greatest enemy of my liberty is the British State. Nor more sadly aware that this does not vary according to the politicians in charge. There could be no better evidence than this odious bill in which the state seeks to protects its own at the expense of those who are supposed to own it. It rather suggests it thinks it owns us.

The British welfare state has created more invalids than the Great War


The video is a little ropey but please persist and view the whole thing. As ever, Dr Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) is both interesting and darkly amusing.

He reports that, under a threat of violence (50% of doctors have been assaulted in the last 12 months) most general practitioners in Britain are routinely filling out fraudulent certificates enabling fit individuals to go "on the sick" where benefits are 60% higher than for unemployment and there is no need to pretend to seek work. More than 2.5 million people have such certificates and he claims that "the great majority of them are fraudulent or at least untruthful." More than a million people have them for "depression and anxiety" alone. He comments wrily that it is an achievement of the British welfare state that it has "created more invalids than the First World War".

Another achievement of the British welfare state is an enormous growth in heroin use. In the 1950s, when heroin addicts were registered with the Home Office, there were known to be about 60 in the whole country. It is now thought that there are about 300,000. He describes an official ideology that heroin addiction is a sickness beyond the addicts' control, which renders them unable to work and drives them to crime. An ideology he says is "completely and obviously wrong."

Every user chose freely to take heroin the first time and most use it intermittently for up to a year before beginning to take it regularly. Most users live in a sub-culture in which the consequences of taking heroin are far better known, as he puts it, than "the dates of the Second World War".

He says it's untrue that medical or other support is necessary to give up heroin. He jokingly calls Mao Zedong "the greatest drug therapist in history" because he told China's heroin addicts that if they didn't give it up he would shoot them. 20 million duly did. Without recommending such a radical approach, he points out that this clearly proves a "conceptual difference between, say, rheumatoid arthritis and drug addiction." Mao's approach, after all, would not have "cured" the former.

For so long as users don't give up heroin he says that's no reason for them not to work. Research shows that in the fifties most American addicts worked normally and indeed most of our own users now lead very active working lives - except that their "work" is burglary.

The growth in heroin use is therefore driven, he seems to suggest, by the needs of the "bureaucracy of care" serving the addicts. Its members need a passive population that takes no personal responsibility in order to secure their jobs. He believes that "at some level" these public employees know full well that they are playing games. In his words;

I would say the addiction services need the addicts more than the addicts need the services.

That's a more shocking critique of welfarism from an insider that I would ever have dared to offer from the outside. To suggest that an army of "carers" has, in effect, steadily built heroin use from 60 to 300,000 to give themselves jobs seems so wicked as to be scarcely believable. But then who would have thought the learned members of our medical profession could be recruited to knowing, if not willing, participation in frauds worth billions of pounds?

For all that its servants justify their jobs by droning on about the supposed immorality and greed of their bogeymen in business, only the state, ladies and gentlemen, can corrupt on such a massive scale.

Moral panics vs morality

New BBC row over Newsnight 'paedophile' politician probe - Telegraph.

I was surprised by last night's Newsnight (available here for a while on iPlayer). Not because it delighted (of course it did) in accusing a Conservative politician of the Thatcher era of being a paedophile, but because this was an old story and no new evidence was offered. The BBC knew it couldn't name the accused man for legal reasons (though it never explained that) thus putting under suspicion every male in Mrs Thatcher's government. 

Of course, the BBC itself is at the heart of a paedophilia scandal and an associated moral panic but even I would expect better of Auntie than deliberate distraction tactics. I would even have hoped better of it than to use such a non-story to mitigate the effect of two others on the same programme that cast its beloved Labour in a bad light. Sadly the relish with which it repeated "Conservative," "Tory," "Thatcher" was as evident as the care with which it played down all references to Labour in the other stories.

You may say the new story was that an old accuser (many of whose similar allegations have been challenged by the author of a book on the scandal) has demanded a meeting with David Cameron in a predictable response to the Prime Minister's silly "sweeping statement that abused people need to be believed." Those telling the truth need to be believed. The liars, bandwagon-jumpers, mass hysterics and fraudulent compensation-seekers need something else entirely. The difficult task in these cases, just as in those involving less emotive crimes, is to distinguish truth from lies. That task is not helped by emotionalism.

The middle of a moral panic is a dangerous time to make such a point. The witch-hunters are likely to look in your direction and - as you are not joining in their cries of "witch" - cry "witch" at you. Anna Raccoon has been experiencing a fair bit of that. I have never met her in person. For all I know some of the ad hominem attacks on her contain some grains of truth. Or not. Still her evidence on the subject of the alleged child abuse at the facility where she lived at the relevant time should be heard. In fact the more her enemies play the woman not the ball, the more I think what she has to say is important. Rod Liddle had some sensible observations on the subject in The Spectator (h/t Navigator for pointing me to that article).

The fact is that the middle of a moral panic is exactly when such points need to be made. For example, I am sure the North Wales childrens home affair involved real and serious child abuse. I am convinced that there are people who were rightly convicted of terrible crimes. But in the moral panic that attended the investigation into that case, it is possible (and I fear likely) that innocent people working in those childrens homes were wrongly accused and their lives trashed. We now know how stupid the South Ronalsday satanic ritual abuse story was, not to mention its American equivalents. Given that they were literal witch-hunts, it's hard to believe they were given credence in the modern era. Yet they were. And the reason-crushing cry of "think of the children!" went up against anyone trying to discuss them calmly.

One of the books that had the greatest influence on me as a young man was this one. It was on the reading list from my University before I started to study law and I commend it to you. I freely admit to using many of the debating tricks it mentions in my attempts to persuade people away from the current, morally-corrosive political orthodoxy. My role on this blog is advocacy, not academic study. I hope that I fall into few of the fallacies mentioned, however, and that I would be honest enough to acknowledge them if I did.

To say we need to keep our heads in the middle of the Savile affair and evaluate carefully all accusations arising from it is not to side with him. Still less, as the more rabid "moral entrepreneurs" are prone to allege, does it suggest any "agenda" in support of paedophilia. I would love to see the truth told and justice done, in so far as the guilty are in reach. Those taking part in the moral panic may see their ad hominem attacks as weapons in a crusade for justice, but they are dangerously wrong. Those they scream at as they ask them to consider the truth are not Justice's enemies. They are.

Anna Raccoon's story continues...

Past Lives and Present Misgivings – Part Six. — Anna Raccoon.

Anna Raccoon continues her efforts in the best traditions of the blogosphere. She was at Duncroft when the alleged abuse occurred and she is calling into question some of the evidence presented to Newsnight. She is taking some stick for it too, poor lady. The comments on her previous posts have been, in some cases, rather ripe.

She is not defending Savile. She's defending truth from people who seem at best confused and at worst in unbalanced pursuit of their Warholite minutes of fame.  In the meantime, the mainstream media is selecting evidence to suit the story as it has already developed. With the nation in the grip of another paedophile panic, it seems journalists don't want the truth to confuse the issue. Some are even telling Anna it would be "career suicide" for them to contradict the accepted narrative.

It's not pretty, is it? Witch-hunts never are. For once that metaphor is chillingly appropriate. Speak any good of the witch, and you risk being called a witch too. The journalists fear to cast doubt on Savile's guilt for fear that the mob will turn on them. 

Anna is being very brave. And as the crimes Savile didn't commit seem likely to be mere footnotes to the ones he allegedly did, she's being very noble too. My fingers are crossed for her.