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Posts Tagged ‘criminal justice system’

It is perhaps unwise to mix emotion with hard-headed logic when it comes to suggesting changes to the Criminal Justice system but the case highlighted by Greg Mulholland MP in his new Parliamentary Early Day Motion does raise an interesting and valid point.

Mr Mulholland cites the death of 16 year-old Jamie Still who was killed by a motorist twice over the legal drink-drive limit. In the eight months it took for the driver to be convicted and sentenced the man responsible for the death was allowed to keep driving. The MP for Leeds North West thinks this is wrong and is calling for all drivers charged with a serious driving offence – such as causing death by dangerous or careless driving – to automatically have their licences suspended until the outcome of the case against them is known.

In principle this idea has validity. Should there not be a presumption that drivers charged with such serious offences lose the right to drive unless their lawyers can successfully argue that to do so would be inappropriate and disproportionate? Or then again is it simply enough to remind magistrates of their existing powers when it comes to considering bail applications? After all members of the bench can already set conditions relating to a particular individual and particular crime, including limiting freedoms – short of remanding suspected offenders in custody – by imposing curfews, ordering people to attend a police station at regular intervals and confiscating passports. Perhaps the current system is flexible enough to cope with competing demands of victims and alleged perpetrators, as the Crown Prosecution Service guidance on bail suggests:

“Decisions on bail in criminal courts represent an important stage in the prosecution process. The results of these decisions can have far reaching consequences for victims of crime and the public in general.

“From the viewpoint of the defendant, bail decisions made by a Court can result in the deprivation or restriction of liberty for a substantial period of time.”

“…it is the Prosecutor’s duty to make a specific recommendation to the Court regarding its decision whether or not to grant bail and, if appropriate, upon which conditions.”

There is another point which this Early Day Motion raises which impacts on bail decisions and potential threats to the public posed by those accused of a crime; that is, the time it takes for a case to come to court. In the example given it was eight months. Surely this is far too long? For all concerned there is a strong argument that the justice process be speeded up.

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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.

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