Sunday, 7 March 2010

Reflecting on Sentencing

I received a letter recently from a victim of crime. We had contacted her to tell her that the young lad that had broken into her car had been charged and was off to Court. The victim was a Muslim woman and when I first read her letter I found it quite amusing and rather ridiculous. After further consideration I then thought it wasn't so ridiculous and wouldn't it be better if sentencing reflected her view on crime and the focus on public humiliation. I have copied her letter below.

Dear Sir,

thank you for telling me that the man that stole from my car has been caught. I would like to have his full name, his address and information on any crime he has committed before. I would also like the name and address of any of his family that are criminal.

The man should be made to write a letter of apology for what he does and if he cannot write I will help him but he must pay me.

The man should be made to sweep my street and he should wear a sign to say that he is a thief so that anyone is warned he is a thief and to watch him. He must wear the sign always out of his house until 6 months when he does not steal.

The man must pay to fix my car and any money he has should be taken from him until he has paid. He must not drink or smoke.

Mrs A

I do not want to open a debate on Sharia Law and I do not accept that it has a place in our society, but I think there are many aspects of the above view I would support. We have moved some way towards it with community punishment, but offenders are given specific tasks that avoid public humiliation. I think a more public penalty would not only serve as a deterent to young offenders but also allow the public and victims to see justice being done.

About fifteen years ago I saw a group of about ten young people doing community service. They were all in the town centre on a Saturday morning scraping chewing gum off the pavements. They all had their heads down cringing with embarrassment. I thought it was great. It only happened the once. The liberals I so love, in charge of community service, heard about it and instructed it must never happen again as we should not be humiliating these poor offenders.

Back to our car thief, he was a 16 year old lad on benefits and was subject of a supervision order. This means he had already been arrested and put into the justice system at least twice (Police Caution and Court Appearance.) For his latest offences, three charges of theft from vehicles he was fined £100 and his supervision order was to continue for its remaining 3 months. He was ordered to pay the fine at £4 per week.

I believe the victims proposed penalty would have had far more effect.


  1. So you don't mind the idea of Restorative Justice?

  2. I think we have forgotten what justice means, and what the common law means. As a result we have forgotten what we as human beings are, and our connections to others in our communities suffer as a result.

    You could look at the trajectory of our system of bureaucracy and increased powers to the state as a transformation from a common law "for the people" to a system of napoleonic law "for the bureaucracy".

    It irritates me when people talk about criminals paying a "debt to society" when really they should be paying a debt to their victims. The state's involvement should be minimal.. and in this respect you are right to take this victim's suggestions seriously.

    Some people have a very different perspective on such matters - and they are often well worth listening to.

  3. It seems self evident (to me, at least - apparently not to everybody) that the most 'broken' aspect of our criminal justice system is the punishment part.

    The police will only ever detect a percentage of crimes. In order to have an effective deterrent, we need penalties which cost the convicted offender much more than he can gain by committing the offence. This is particularly obvious in aquisitive crime, but the general principle of 'crime doesn't pay' should apply to all offences.

  4. I do like the idea of having the thief wear a sign for 6 months...or tattoo "THIEF" on their forehead. If the little turd is getting public money, I guess the public is actually the ones paying his fine.

  5. Lex, I think you will continue to struggle uphill with this concept as long as there are people with authority in the system who decide to rename a Young Offenders Institution (Armley Jail) a "Secure College of Learning", as spotted in my ride through Wetherby today. Is this the pot calling the kettle `a water-warming aid contributing to the creation of a nice cup of tea`?

  6. I think that lady had exactly the right attitude. Name, shame & ensure there's no gain!
    Won't happen here though where the offender is always seen as a 'victim' & the real victim is quite often blamed for 'provoking' the offender - by having a nice car or money in his/her pocket.

  7. "The Man Who Held the Queen to Ransom and Sent Parliament Packing" by Peter Van Greenaway [1968]

    .... and sentenced a murderer to serve his time in a cage in a zoo.....

    Cracking book, well worth a read if you can find a copy.

  8. Surely an ASBO is humiliation enough? Actually, best not hand then out any more in case they upset the recipients. Can't be disempowering the clients, can we?

  9. Actually I have seen a picture of a bloke outside Woolworths,or Boots or Marks & Spencers in the centre of town on a busy shopping day wearing a sign round his neck saying "I am scum and thieve from my own community". It won't surprise anyone to hear that it was in Northern Ireland and I think we can all guess at the motivational forces at work here. But that's the result people want and if it turns out to be the only way they get it then it's not rocket science to see where we're going. And that would be alarming

  10. I was a Police Officer in the Royal Hong Kong Polce for a number of years, serving mainly in the New Territories.
    In Tai Po there was a problem with Triads. One of their head honchos was caught; the senior officer in charge approved the following course of action:-
    The felon was walked through the streets of Tai Po, handcuffed and bound with rope; he had a toilet seat around his neck and a large poster (a 'dai ji bo')also hanging there which read "I am a shit" The local population was encouraged to mock him which they did with a vengeance.
    Result? The triad influence in the town dropped to zero for a considerable period.
    Mr and Mrs Local Resident approved wholeheartedly of this course of action and the local Police did too!

  11. I think Hong Kong went soft when they banned the fisherman in Sai Kung from using explosives to stun the fish ;)

  12. I agree with you.

    I am a criminal defence solicitor and, although I avoid the youth court whenever possible, it is impossible to avoid the conclusin that the way the court works hinders its own objectives.

    First, the hearings take place in private rather than in public. I have no problem with youth suspects names not being published, but they should appear in public so that they feel some shame at what they did. I was once told of by a lay magistrate for refering to a boy as "Master X" and was reminded that I must always use his first name. I pointed out that as he was about to admit to a nasty robbery that last thing we would ever want was for him to feel worried about it.

    Secondly, the sentences handed out are a nonsense. It's not the fault of the courts though. The Government requires that the court imposes a community order on the first offence and sentencing guidlines give for much more lenient sentences than would be in teh case in adult courts.

    The result is that in virtually every youth case, the offender ends up with some form of supervision which involves him seeing a Youth Offending Team worker once in a while.

    Work in the community where people can see the offenders would have a much better effect than the time wasting rubbish we have now... in fact I recently did a breach hearing where the Defendant said she hadn't breached, she had in fact attended but nobody from probation was about to give her any work. I spoke to the probation rep at court who confirmed that this was often the case and dropped the breach proceedings!!

  13. Victims are angry. Some idiot tried to mug me a few weeks ago. I shoved him and he fell and whacked his head on the pavement. I walked on and didn't look back until I'd covered about 50 metres. He got up and staggered into a park. For all I know he's dead and I couldn't give a toss.

    But I wouldn't want him humiliated. That's ridiculous. That's certain to provoke him to become more dangerous.

    Maybe that would suit the police. Tasering will have the same effect. Anyone you taser will looking for an opportunity for revenge against any police officer.

  14. People do what they do because it is more rewarding in their mind, what ever is easier.

    Shame is a good thing, many a person became a hero because they did not want their acquaintances and friends to think of them as cowards. [Military, sports etc.]

    Birds of a feather flock together because they get approval. Thus gangs work [youth mobs etc.], they seek the approval of their buddies.
    Shame from their peers is a motivator, no one likes being criticize by their leaders.
    It is known fact if you want your team to work, never ream out a member in front of the lads, always do it on the QT.

    The Justices seek the approval of their ilk in the same way, thus the two groups fail to understand the other.