Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 22/06/11

Reason In Chains

I suppose I should be glad that even as I near half a century in this world I can still be seduced by wishful thinking. Keeps the mind young, I suppose.

But when one is exposed as being gullible it isn't pleasant.

I really did believe that there was a possibility, with Kenneth Clarke in charge of penal policy in the UK and his Breaking The Cycle Green Paper of late last year, that something might finally be done to expose and eradicate the shameful failures of our systems of punishment over the last thirty years. An end to the knee-jerk, tabloid-pleasing, curtain-twitcher-licking pattern of 'crackdowns' and 'tough talking' which has destroyed so many hopes and lives.

I also knew, however, that it was (to use that appallingly cloth-eared phrase) a 'tough ask' for any Justice Secretary - especially a Conservative one - to try to get any positive reform of those systems into effect without them being diluted into meaningless slogans.

And so indeed it has been. After his minor mis-speak over sentence reductions a few weeks ago (which managed to put both the tabloid hacks and the more witless modern feminists on the same side of the barricades - an almost unprecedented event), it was clear that the daggers - already kept nice and sharp by those in his party who detest him for his pro-European views - would be plunged into Clarke's back at the appropriate moment.

Yesterday, they were. And the plunging was done by his own boss, the egregious PR man Cameron. Having, one presumed, given the go-ahead to the policy positions contained in Breaking The Cycle and getting them through Cabinet, Cameron has now stamped on the only Cabinet minister who has any idea of what he's talking about in his own area of responsibility, preferring instead to go after the same, extreme, 'get tough' soundbites and making up policy on the hoof which has led our penal system to be an affront to European civilisation.

Gone are the reduced sentences for early pleas of guilty; gone are the plans to increase the use of community sentences as an alternative to custody. Instead, we have the out-of-the-air announcement of automatic custodial sentences for anyone found threatening someone with a knife, irrespective of the circumstances of the individual case and further reducing what declining discretion the professional judiciary have in deciding these matters; we have the proposal to take away even more of the tiny amount prisoners are permitted to earn, supposedly to give to 'victim support groups' (Road Fund Tax, anyone?); we have the pledge to reduce drug use in prisons (presumably by further invasions of the privacy and persons of people visiting their family members, rather than tackling the real source of contraband in prisons, i.e. bent prison officers); and we have the proposal not to do away with the abusive and abused IPPs (see the previous post), but merely to convert some of them into extremely long determinate terms, which will not resolve the issue in the slightest.

In short, it's as if Straw, Blunkett, Reid, Clarke (Charles), Smith and Johnson had never left office. Round and around we go again, dancing to the tune of the scummiest hack-rags in the developed world and the prejudices of the contented ignorant.

More lives will be destroyed, more families broken up, more injustices will be caused by refusing to allow the judiciary to exercise its proper rôle. Just so that the know-nothings and don't-wish-to-knows can be pandered to, and the same inflated rhetoric can be deployed to assuage them as has been used ad nauseam since the days of David Waddington and Leon Brittan.

As you were...

(Inspired by this piece from the ever-admirable Septicisle)