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Could it get any worse? You bet

Crime in Britain is a serious problem even though people will contest the figures and trends. The present government, no doubt aware that the issue remains a hot-button matter for voters, is determined to be seen to be doing something about it, however ineffectual.

In the process, rather than push for tougher sentencing and allowing people to defend themselves, the administration’s approach is to overturn centuries of checks and balances in the criminal law.

This is the latest:

Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, and Mike O’Brien, the solicitor general, are drawing up proposals to bypass the court process in as many as half the cases heard by magistrates every year.

Defendants who plead guilty to offences such as shoplifting, theft and criminal damage would have their punishment decided by the prosecutor, in consultation with the police, instead of going to court. Ministers believe that about half of the two million cases heard annually by magistrates could be handled in that way.

The plan would represent a revolution in the criminal justice system which has always been based on the principle that sentencing should be weighed in court, with the defence entering a plea in mitigation in response to the prosecution’s case.

The article goes on to say that the government aims to save money from this bracing and exciting new approach to law enforcement. Up to £350 million a year is spent on Legal Aid to court defendants appearing before magistrates. 350 million pounds is a large dollop of money although chickenfeed compared with what the government may end up spending – and we paying for – on ID cards. ID cards are likely, I confidently predict, to be largely useless in reducing crime, and I very much doubt that cutting public spending is a great priority of this government.

49 comments to Could it get any worse? You bet

  • Kim du Toit

    Hey, it could be worse. Britain could always ban swords(Link)

    That alone could cut the number of “sword-related” crimes by oh… about five per century.

    Well worth it, from where I stand.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    If you aren’t willing to do something more about this than complaining, then I’m not even sure what the point of complaining is.

    “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

  • They’ve already banned Klingon Bat’leths. And that was three years ago!

  • Crosbie

    This might encourage criminals to plead not-guilty in order to get a court trial, and the hope of a lighter sentence. That would clog the courts up even more.

  • nic

    A more classical approach to the clog would be to offer more choice to the victim and offender. If the offender admits the crime and doesn’t want to go through the court system there ought to be a standard (somewhat lower than average punishment) + reparations and apology to the victim.

  • Verity

    What on earth is the point of a court-mandated “apology” when the little scrote intends to go out and do it again as soon as they let go the back of his collar? I hate all this touchy-feely crap.

    I don’t mind a reduced sentence for saving everyone the trouble, and I think reparations should be mandatory, but please, no respec’.

  • permanent expat

    The Island is a moral slough & no amount of pettyfogging will change this. A radical change in attitudes can only come from the bottom up. No amount of new legislation (and, good grief, isn’t there already more than enough) imposed from above will change the situation. If the laws already on the Statute Book of 50 years ago were correctly & effectively promulgated it would suffice…….and I am with Mr. du Toit on swords, knives & nail-clippers. I am able to kill anyone with the Biro in my pocket. (Shock, horror, they should be banned!) Further, any criminal wanting a gun to commit a crime has no problem in obtaining one. The law-abiding burgher, however, is denied the ownership of a firearm to either deter the criminal or to (correctly) ensure that he can defend himself……..and, hopefully, relieve society of a burden.

  • Albion

    If you aren’t willing to do something more about this than complaining, then I’m not even sure what the point of complaining is.

    And what exactly do you suggest we do then? Some specifics please. Seems to me that what Johnathan is doing is publically trying to point out this is not acceptable. What are you going to do?

  • GCooper

    Albion writes:

    “And what exactly do you suggest we do then? Some specifics please. Seems to me that what Johnathan is doing is publically trying to point out this is not acceptable”

    I think there’s something in both points of view. We should do something more than bellyaching on a blog – and yet, what is there to be done?

    Bliar and his tame gang of historical illiterates and neo-fascists has worked out that the Great British Public doesn’t gave a damn about abstracts such as habeus corpus and ‘all that legal mumbo jumbo’, so they slowly apply the ratchet, noting how little the victim squeals with each turn.

    Until mass opinion is moved, nothing much can be achieved and how we move that mass opinion is the real issue to which we should be addressing ourselves.

  • permanent expat

    Yes indeed, GCooper……….mass opinion, from the bottom up, mostly. When is the man-in-the street going to wake up to all this crap? But don’t entertain this amazing event happening in the near future. Weaning hoi polloi from Nanny is a Herculean task for which I see no immediate heroes.

  • Jake

    In the US, this called plea bargaining and is done quite often in certain cities. The prosecutor negotiates the sentence with the defense attorney if the defendant agrees to plead guilty in court. The judge usually goes along with the agreement.

    Some states have outlawed the practice as the sentences agreed to were usually too short and contributed to the rising crime problem. Prosecutors wanted the win on their record and did not care if the criminal was back on the street.

  • People are not noticing because this is happening piecemeal,I hate to recommend this to libertarians but those who have suffered injustice under the state will have to be collectivised.One victim of injustice bad..many victims of injustice good.

  • Verity

    permanent expat – Thank you for ‘hoi polloi’ and not the hoi polloi. Small mercies.

    GCooper says: Until mass opinion is moved, nothing much can be achieved and how we move that mass opinion is the real issue to which we should be addressing ourselves.

    GCooper, mass opinion is not going to be moved off the teat. Their gums are clenched tight. Gordon Brown, in his dull witted yet cunning way, has made almost every Brit into a welfare recipient. It’s in their interest to keep their gums clenched.

    You may think that Britain is in socialist hell now, but it will get worse with the lockstep into EU hell.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    Albion asks: And what exactly do you suggest we do then? Some specifics please. Seems to me that what Johnathan is doing is publically trying to point out this is not acceptable. What are you going to do?

    I’m not going to do anything. I live in New York.

    What do I do here about this sort of thing? I give money to organizations like the ACLU — they’re usually imperfect, but they’re what I have. I attend protest marches. I call my elected representatives. I also post long screeds, but I consider that to be, at best, a way to get others to give money, call their congressmen, and take to the streets when needed.

    Perhaps it is not fashionable among libertarians in the UK to do things like taking out ads criticizing the government, suing in the ECJ (not that this will help enormously given your legal system), contributing to opposition candidates, etc., protesting in public, etc., and perhaps such activities are not guaranteed to succeed, but it is a heck of a lot better to try to do something than to sit back and accept it when the man with the knife comes to turn you into a gelding.

  • Verity

    I’m not going to do anything. I live in New York. How exciting for you. The question wasn’t addressed to you. But you couldn’t resist a naive lecture.

    Thanks, sweetheart, but we drew our mark in 1292. It lasted for a thousand years – hundreds of generations of us – which is pretty good going.

    We’ve entered a new phase of an iron-fisted dictatorship, voted in by those whose freedom was bought dear.

    Nothing’s forever.

  • Verity

    I should have added above that I do not think this is going to turn around no matter how many people are disturbed and distressed (as I am). I think it’s a tide that’s on its way out after all these years.

  • Johnathan

    Perry Metzger, Of course there is plenty else one can do, such as campaign, go on marches, etc. Some of us have tried such things before (yours truly included). Like another commenter said, one thing is to simply keep the focus on this issue. I don’t see why you think that writing about such things is simply “complaining”.

  • guy herbert

    What happened in 1292, Verity?

  • guy herbert

    Jonathan,

    For comparison the official Home Office figures for ID cards are that their internal costs, to be met from fees from the public and business and other departments, will be £584 million a year for 10 years.

    (I submit that giving such a figure to 3 significant figures and declaring it as a constant expenditure is in itself ludicrous, and evidence of the department’s total unfitness to run the project.)

    That’s in itself vastly more than the entirely notional ‘saving’ by depriving people of all criminal legal aid in the magistrate’s courts. Which I note is not what’s promised: the Government is spinning again, because most criminal legal aid naturally goes on the defence of those pleading not guilty in more serious and complicated cases, not pleas in mitigation.

    (And of course the Identity Cards Bill would introduce lots of new offences, many of which will be serious enough to be tried on indictment, plus a vast system of administrative penalties, some of which would end up appealed to the courts. So it is unlikely to leave the costs of policing and the court system unaffected.)

  • Julian Taylor

    Also bear in mind that you could conceivably end up being tried and sentenced by a recently graduated Crown Prosecution Service solicitor with minimal experience of the law and not much experience of people. Having sat as a very much amateur Justice of the Peace for a year or so in the early 90′s I can recall how hard it is to reach a decision on a large number of cases, especially long debates on whether or not to commit a single mother with 2 young children to prison. Blair intends to remove any chance for mercy or humanity in this, by restricting his CPS officials to a set of strict, and no doubt unusable, guidelines.

    Anyone pleading guilty will probably fail to gain the benefit of saving the court’s time, in a reduced sentence or lesser punishment, since there is no court per se. Regretfully all I can see from this is a massive increase in cases being sent from ‘state prosecutors office’ to magistrates and thence to Crown Court, simply because defendants do not trust Blair’s guidelines to give them a ‘fair’ sentence if they get convicted.

  • pommygranate

    I find it ironic that libertarians love to sneer at closed circuit TV, ASBOs, parenting classes for the unwashed, on-the-spot fines etc, yet are the first to wail out about out of control crime.

    Tony Blair may not be doing the right things, but at least he’s trying.

  • guy herbert

    Not all libertarians, pommygranate. I for one am consistently skeptical about crime panics.

    There’s no sign that Blair is trying to do anything except promote those same crime-panics in order to push a generalised authoritarianism that he finds congenial. That is the heart of the Respec’ Agenda.

    I think Jonathan’s point is good whatever you think is happening to crime. Bypassing the trial process cannot “work” because fair trials cannot be a cause of crime, and to hint that it is worth doing for cost reasons when the maximum savings are a tiny percentage of the errors in public spending totals, which themselves are much smaller than the annual increases in real public spending, is utterly absurd.

    What the government is doing here is part of that Respec’ message. It is sending a signal to its thuggish supporters that accused=guilty.

  • permanent expat

    Maybe a trial period of Sharia Law would sort a few things out & concentrate attention a tad. Public beheadings on Horseguards Parade, amputations would cause second thoughts among the light-fingered. There is an abundance of unused quarries which could be put to good & practical use in reminding flighty females of their place in the greater scheme of things.Comprehensive madrassas with the little hoodies & slutties nodding their shaven pates learning King James by rote. The rest of us with our arses to the US and facing the Holy City of Southend-on-Sea five times a day.
    …………..& don’t for a moment think it couldn’t happen.

  • Julian Taylor

    Yes of course, why stop there? I’m sure we have enough children doing woodwork classes who can knock up a set stocks in a few hours and certainly we have enough disused iron foundries left over that we could reduce the single parent problem by forcing all teenage girls to wear steel chastity belts.

    Hell, why not pull down Marble Arch and put the 3-legged horse back in Tyburn?

  • Johnathan

    Pommygranite, rot. It is possible to be concerned about crime and also to be concerned at potential vast abuse of police powers in the pursuit therof. We should certainly go after crime, but there is no need to piss all over civil liberties in the process. I see no conflict in these objectives.

    The clash between security and liberty is a false one, one that is usually pushed by authortarians trying to frighten us into accepting ever more powers. People should have seen through this sophistry by now.

  • permanent expat

    “When a government takes over a people’s economic life it becomes absolute, and when it has become absolute it destroys the arts, the minds, the liberties & the meaning of the people it governs.” Maxwell Anderson.

  • Karl rove

    1292.
    The only thing I can find is John Balliol became king of bonny Scotland. How did this mean freedom for “hundreds of generations”? Assuming a generation lasts less than 7 years.

    In 1291, the 3 first Swiss cantons founded their Eternal League, with a document (the Bundesbrief) which is rather more coherent than Magna Carta. But I doubt anyone in Britain knew of it.

  • permanent expat

    He who is without “typo” may cast the first stone.

  • permanent expat

    Oh………..and if you are following this, Kim du Toit, with all those guns you have, your neck of the woods must simply be absolutely littered with corpses. What a reprehensible chap you are!

  • Verity

    I batted out the post before shutting down the computer, Guy Herbert, and was too tired to look the date up. I meant 1215, of course. I don’t know why, but 1292 sounded so right …

  • guy herbert

    Ah, now I understand.

    BTW I did a little item on this same topic on White Rose, if anyone wants a slightly different angle.

  • guy herbert

    Sorry, I’ll try that link again.

  • Verity

    I went to your link, and your final paragraph strikes a chilling note.

  • pommygranate

    Johnathan

    The number of crimes being committed has rocketed – the vast majority of these are relatively minor. It is impractical to pursue all of these in court. It makes sense to find other alternatives.

    England isn’t going to back to the law-abiding 1950s. We are stuck in a new era of high crime.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    pommy, your argument does not really make sense and in any event, it is not quite as impractical as you suggest. these crimes may be “minor” but of course if a person is unjustly accused, they can get a criminal record for life. I’d rather we live in a country where such matters can be challenged and weighed in a court, not by a police officer.

    You are obviously tempted by the authortarian approach to law enforcement. I don’t think you quite get what this blog is about.

  • pommygranate

    Johnathan, I understand perfectly what this blog is about but disagree with the liberty-at-all-cost wing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Pommy, if you think that concern for the idea of court trials, due process and the rest is being a part of the “liberty-at-all-costs wing”, then you misrepresent my position. It is not a case of freedom “at all costs”. It is about ensuring that justice is done, rather than dealing with “minor” crimes on the Judge Dredd model.

  • pommygranate

    Johnathan – i couldn’t agree more with Brian Micklethwaite’s latest post. It is much more complex than simply lambasting Blair for taking steps (albeit misguided ones) to help decent families trying to live in welfare-blighted areas. ASBOs may be sneered at by middle class lefties and libertarians living in Primrose Hill, but are highly popular with these people who face unimagineable daily hassles.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Pommy, now we are in agreement, at least on the latter point. I just worry, like commenters such as Guy Herbert on this thread, that the practical impact of this fussing around with the magistrates court system is likely to be far less than the trouble involved.

    I really worry that so many crimes could now not go through a court but be dealt with in a summary fashion like this. It shows a basic contempt for procedure, and all the odder coming from a government full of lawyers.

  • “Oh………..and if you are following this, Kim du Toit, with all those guns you have, your neck of the woods must simply be absolutely littered with corpses. What a reprehensible chap you are! ”

    Well, Mr Expat, I hope you aren’t an expat in the United States, because we have more than enough of our own home grown gun banning bigots, Thank you very much.
    I find it extremely amusing that someone who is critical of the authoritarian policies of the current British government has no problem attacking someone who makes a private and personal choice to own firearms. Maybe you have more in common with Blair and his cronies than you think.

  • Badger the government constantly to legalize the possession and carry of firearms for law-abiding citizens.

    Crime will drop quicker than David Cameron’s ego.

    And I’m absolutely serious.

  • Verity

    John Wright – you just don’t realise how cowed the British are. If you had a referendum on gun ownership tomorrow, most people would vote for the ban to continue. They would rather depend totally on an inadequate and corrupt state to protect them than take responsibility for themselves. They really are disgusting.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    A couple of brief notes.

    First, somehow, here in New York, we’ve had a massive drop in crime without the need for the sorts of measures your dictator, er, Prime Minister, has suggested. Crime here is now far, far, far lower than in London, and yet we still have to make use of such antiquated mechanisms as courts.

    Second, perhaps, as “Verity” says, the British are so cowed that they will not accept the idea of permitting people to own guns. Perhaps they will never demand their freedom again. If so, then leave now while you still can. If you don’t believe that you should be leaving, then act. If you will neither act nor leave, then you’re one of the sheep you’re complaining about, and you should train your children how to crane their necks out carefully so that the butchers have less trouble when they come to cut their throats. After all, it is only polite.

    Someone mentioned 1215 earlier. I’ll point out that Magna Carta was not extracted by the kindness and forward thinking of King John. It was won at swordpoint. So were many of your other freedoms. If you haven’t spent money on a advertisement, if you haven’t marched in the street in the last six months, if you haven’t even thought about civil disobedience, if all you do is cry in your beer, why do you think you are going to retain your freedom?

    Politicians don’t listen because they want to. They are forced to listen against their will. What have you done to be so loud that Parliament has no choice but to listen to you?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    First, somehow, here in New York, we’ve had a massive drop in crime without the need for the sorts of measures your dictator, er, Prime Minister, has suggested. Crime here is now far, far, far lower than in London, and yet we still have to make use of such antiquated mechanisms as courts.

    Absolutely right. Of course, crime in New York got so bad in the 80s that there was wide support for something better, but not the kind of assault on the courts we have now, but the “zero tolerance” policing introduced by Bill Bratton. It worked. On my last visit to New York I felt safer than when I am in many parts of London.

  • Verity

    Perry E. Metzger – You are not going to get the British out demonstrating for their civil rights. The only thing they’ve demonstrated about – other than the war, and that was the anti-American left – was the poll tax. In other words, when they saw that they weren’t going to get concessions for local taxes any more, they (the left, again) took to the streets.

    The story of NYC is very well known. It took someone from the right to clean up NY. In Britain, the hard left (disguised as the right) is in power. Social incohesion and dependence on the state suits them, obviously.

    I despaired and I left. And things are far worse now than they were when I left. The right won’t take to the streets, but they’ll take to foreign embassies filling in forms for visas. They’ll take to the internet looking for jobs overseas. Emigration and immigration are roughly balanced just now, but the emigrants are native British, educated, confident, achieving.

  • I find it ironic that libertarians love to sneer at closed circuit TV, ASBOs, parenting classes for the unwashed, on-the-spot fines etc, yet are the first to wail out about out of control crime.

    Because all those things are not very effective. What is needed are measures like an end to subsidising the curcumstances that lead to tolerated crime (i.e. an end to the welfare state), and recognition of the absolute right to defend both life and above all property, THOSE are measures libertarians tend to support. You may not like the alternatives but please do not act as if they are not being suggested as meaningful solutions to the present situation.

    Also, I have no problem with CCTV cameras per se, just so long as the state only gets access to them if it asks nicely rather than wherever some minor state functionary gets the urge to see what I am up to. I am part owner of the resident owned CCTV cams on Upper Cheyne Row in London in fact.

    Tony Blair may not be doing the right things, but at least he’s trying.

    That is rather like saying “Tony Blair is bailing water into the sinking ship but at least he is bailing”. Tony Blair is part of the problem not part of the solution.

  • Verity

    Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. But the British are going to continue to vote themselves a rise (being too stupid to understand that it comes out of their taxes – as do the rises of people who don’t work or don’t create wealth). People are lazy. Everyone getting more and more from “the government”, as though it is some big daddy in the sky that rains down money on deserving (i.e., me) people.

    Tony Blair and “New” Labour have been the generator that powers the problem for eight years, as we all know.

    So now what? More of the same, of course. It is absolutely hopeless. People are hypnotised.

  • pommygranate

    in New York, we’ve had a massive drop in crime

    Perry M – if you haven’t already done so, you must read Steven Levitt’s Freakanomics. He tests the often heard theories as to why crime fell so sharply in the US during the 1990s e.g. a reduction in the supply of crack, zero tolerance policing and a stronger economy. His conclusion is surprising and cites a fourth much less well published factor as the dominant reason.

  • Perry E. Metzger

    Yes, legalized abortion. The idea has been circulating for a while.

    Not the point, though. The real point is that draconian measures are not needed to improve safety.