At the risk of biting off more than I can chew it might be worth trying to define what we are trying to achieve when we punish someone for a crime.
I suppose the starting point is determining what a crime is. The glib answer is that it is the result of someone breaking the criminal law. When it comes to motoring, the laws drivers are at the risk of contravening include those relating to speed limits. While we could legitimately discuss whether the current speed limits are appropriate, the fact remains they are what they are and most responsible motorists will abide by them – whatever their underlying thoughts on their validity.
So what happens when a crime is committed and the person who erred is found guilty? Normally they receive a punishment to fit the crime; something which serves as a suitable demonstration of how seriously society regards that crime and also severe enough to deter a significant amount of people from repeating the unlawful activity.
Of course a second pillar of the criminal justice system (CJS) is the ability of the police to catch offenders or at least create the impression that they will be caught.
It is by juggling these two aspects of the CJS that the lowest possible crime rate can be achieved.
But what a punishment regime should not be is a revenue raiser, least of all one which treats one set of offenders differently to another. Yet that is what the reported changes related to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme seem in danger of becoming: a method of using fines to generate income – rather than being a proportional punishment – and isolating one type of criminal perpetrator from the others. This runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute. Dare I say, it might even be illegal.
Perhaps this whole debate is simply one big kite flying exercise to gauge public reaction to such a scheme. It will be fascinating to see how long this particular kite remains airborne.