Thursday, January 13, 2011

British Justice. An Opinion.

Sometimes the law is the proverbial ass.

Oh yes, you'll have guessed that something's got my goat again. On this occasion it's the rank stupidity of the sentence handed down to Edward Woollard on Tuesday.
Woollard was sentenced as a "deterrent" to 32 months in prison for the act of chucking a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank (Tory HQ) during the tuition fee protest.

Now what possible good can it do to anyone to stick the young man inside? Does he have a criminal record showing a tendency to mindless violence? No. Did his stupid actions kill or even hurt anyone? No. Is he actually a menace or danger to the public? No.

Surely the purpose of prison is to protect society from dangerous people. Woollard is simply not a dangerous person; he's a young man who got caught up in the heat of a febrile moment and carried out a stupid and dangerous act. I'm certainly not suggesting that such things should go unremarked, nor yet unpunished. But unless society in the first place and the offender in the second are to benefit from the punishment, it's pointless.

What do I mean by the offender benefiting from the punishment? Only that some good needs to come from it - a lesson learned, a successful and swift rehabilitation gained. The prospect of personal betterment after the period of punishment must be available, otherwise the offender has no hope. And hope is essential.

In this case surely a community sentence demanding that Woollard give up his time for the good of his local community, using his skills for the benefit of others, would have been the constructive and proper action against him.

Deterrence is a fallacy in criminal sentencing. No one stops committing a crime because they might get a worse punishment; simply getting caught is enough to deter most and those who are beyond that fear through an adrenaline rush or political anger will not be deterred by even the most draconian laws and sentencing.

Take, for example, a country with extreme punishments for what we might consider minor offences - the USA. Many states there have the death penalty and yet the murder rate is a hugely in excess of that enjoyed in the UK with its supposedly soft culture. Are the offenders in the US deterred by the fact that their crime might cost them their very lives? No.

Will future protesters against this government's iniquitous and, frankly dishonest, policies be deterred from stupid acts during heated moments? No.

Will serving a substantial custodial sentence at the age of 18 ruin his chances of progressing in life? Almost undoubtedly. 

Woollard gave himself up to police, pleaded guilty, was obviously greatly distressed by his own actions - will sending him prison help him come to terms with his stupid couple of minutes, or will it simply ruin him and his life chances? You'll have good idea of my guess on that one.

His university place (and he's the first member of his family to  have ever achieved a place in higher education) will be gone for a burton. He might be allowed to defer for a year, I suppose, but will his mental state in 2012 be conducive to study?

What career might Woollard now be able to consider pursuing? On every application form from now on, he will be obliged to state that he's served time in prison. Spot the new member of the unemployed and unemployable. Well done, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, an excellent example of rank stupidity from a representative of the purported intelligentsia.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, the Metropolitan Police's head of public order: "This sentence is a significant period of imprisonment for a young man with no previous convictions. It will have a significant impact on his life and his future.

Yes, Bob, it will. And it serves no good purpose whatsoever.

On a separate, but related, note - all of the judiciary and police involved have expressed their support for the right to peaceful protest. Sadly, I don't think peaceful protest has even the slightest effect.

I marched peacefully on Aldermaston and on London at the height of the cruise missile "debate" in the early 1980s to protest that we, the British people did not want these weapons of mass destruction on our soil. There were no marches, peaceful or otherwise, in favour of the USA stationing their nuclear weapons on UK soil. And you know what? Our protests were completely ignored and the missiles arrived, the abominable arms industry prospered and it all got quietly forgotten.

Peaceful protest, my arse. How did we get the poll tax overturned?

"....through a hail of bricks and stones and tiles..." (oh yes - I was there, too).

And while we're at it - young protesters, next time you have the heir to the throne within your grasp, don't let him off with a bit of rocking his car, eh?

1 comment:

Judith said...

Well said, Millbrooker. That sentence is outrageous.