Article Categories

Bemoaners begone

  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |

Crime and punishment have been in the news again this week.  It has been a week of ‘bemoaning.’  First we had Sara Payne bemoaning the uncertainties surrounding release dates of long term prisoners, mindful no doubt of the prisoner convicted of abducting, abusing and murdering her daughter. 

Then we had Kier Starmer, the beleaguered Director of Public Prosecutions, bemoaning the increasing use by the Police of cautions, even in cases where serious crimes have been committed.

Speaking for myself, I deplore the “steps of the court” cameo TV appearances of the relatives of victims, straight from the worst excesses of American soap operas, herded together by Plod and bemoaning the acquittal of the accused, or more often, the fact that the perpetrator of the crime has been sentenced to less than 150 years in prison, without parole.  As soon as I see these ‘moaners’, I hit the mute button.  They know nothing about the law, and besides, it’s so unBritish! 

Leaving aside the emotional baggage which Mrs. Payne brings to the debate, the present system of sentencing convicted offenders to life imprisonment is as good as it’s likely to get, and is in the public domain.  The judge is obliged to “set a tariff,” namely the minimum sentence to be served in prison before parole can be considered. 

Note my emphasis, as parole is certainly not a formality and far from a shoo in.  Once the tariff has been served, the prisoner will indeed apply for parole, but he must satisfy the Parole Board, and ultimately the Secretary of State for Justice, that he is no longer a danger to the public if released on licence.  That licence is for life, so if he re-offends, or fails to obey any of the rules laid down by his supervising officer in the community, his licence will be revoked and he will be returned to custody, often for several more years before a fresh application for parole will be entertained.

In this country, and with a few notable exceptions, we try to balance retribution with rehabilitation.  It is the hallmark of a civilised society that no man is beyond redemption.  Mrs. Payne will be kept informed of any application by her daughter’s killer for parole, and will be invited to make representations, but ultimately the decision to refuse parole or release on licence must be made by those who have the necessary expertise and who are not emotionally involved.

As for Kier Starmer, I suspect he’s wondering what he let himself in for when he took the job.  Breaking the mould of his predecessors, who were conspicuous by their silence, he has been asked to make decisions and to hold himself accountable, and on any view, his has been an uncomfortable experience.  Put bluntly, he looks hopelessly out of his depth. 

Firstly there was the issue of assisted suicide, forced on him by the now defunct House of Lords, and now the overuse of police cautions.  Graphic pictures of victims of violent crime and scarred for life have been splashed across the pages of tabloids and broadsheets alike, accompanied by the question: “Why wasn’t my attacker prosecuted and not simply cautioned?”

It’s worth remembering that before Plod can issue a caution, the ‘criminal’ must admit guilt.  If he denies the offence, he cannot be cautioned.  And as we all know, a confession of guilt, freely obtained, is the best evidence to place before a court.  There is a suspicion that the Crown Prosecution Service, for which Starmer has the ultimate responsibility, is using cautions as an easy option.  It saves paperwork and time, as well as the time of Plod, who can be better employed operating radar controlled speed traps and chasing yobs through shopping arcades late at night.

My recent experiences of the CPS suggest they need a complete rethink of their priorities.  At the same time, ways must be found to reduce the mountain of paperwork in even the simplest of cases, involving form filling and checking and rechecking and box ticking and file preparation of monumental proportions, and all too often, for little or nothing in return.

Kier Starmer must now stand up and be counted, and show some leadership.  The courts must accept their share of responsibility and criticise where criticism is merited.  Time for change and a new approach, and as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Problem is, there’s precious little evidence of a will, more like groping in the dark.

Rate this Article:
  • Article Word Count: 688
  • |
  • Total Views: 10
  • |
  • permalink
  • Print Article |
  • Send to a Friend |
  • |
  • Add to Google |
>