Monday, August 15, 2011

A tale of two justice systems

Case Study Number 1

Police investigating the phone hacking scandal have arrested a number of people, including then News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks. But this hasn't involved knocking on their door and dragging them out in front of their neighbours. No, they have mostly been arrested by appointment at police stations. They are being investigated for involvement in some pretty serious crimes - hacking into the mobile of a missing schoolgirl, giving her parents false hope that she was still alive when they'd deleted some of her voicemails for a start. A pretty despicable crime.  It's caused one of the biggest outcries I can remember and led to the recall of Parliament from its Summer recess. The arrested people have now gone back to their rich, comfortable lives. I'm not saying they aren't under stress, but even if some of them end up spending time as guests of Her Majesty (and not in the way they are used to), they will still have comfortable homes to return to when it's all over.

Case Study Number 2

The Guardian reports that Conservative Wandsworth Council has issued an eviction notice on the mother of a teenage boy under investigation for rioting at Clapham Junction. Now, I don't know the exact circumstances of his arrest, but I have my doubts that it was by convenient appointment. How can it possibly help to make an entire family homeless? Yes, the vandalism and arson was serious. Yes, it's caused one of the biggest outcries I can remember and led to the recall of Parliament from it's Summer recess.  I don't get, though, why anyone convicted should, having spent time at Her Majesty's pleasure, come out to find that they don't have a home to go to. How is it right that the middle class child of owner occupiers would have a comfortable home to return to, while the poorer child of someone in social housing is homeless? That's punishing the poor a lot more than it is the rich and that is fundamentally unfair and unjust. Even if you argue that parents are responsible for their children's actions, what about any younger siblings? There are circumstances, unfortunately, when families have to be evicted - if, for example, they are making life hell for their neighbours through anti-social behaviour. The ultimate eviction comes at the end of a very long process in which the family have multiple chances to mend their ways, though.

It's important that the justice system is seen to be fair and consistent in the way it treats people who commit crimes. The response to the phone hacking scandal and the riots shows that this simply is not happening. We need Liberal Democrats to be speaking out against this - and using their position within government to change it. Happily, they are doing that as the Observer reported yesterday.

I doubt government ministers can interfere in the actions of a local Council so it's not as if any of them can directly influence this case - but the Liberal Democrats need to call the Tories out for the disproportionate, inaccurate and illiberal nonsense we've heard from them over the past week or so. I also wonder if the Tory Council in this case is using powers given by a previous Labour government. If that's the case, then Labour have a case to answer too.

We must not sit by and watch while the law is being enforced in such an unfair manner. The poor should not have to pay more for crime than the rich - yet that is exactly the message  that's being given out at the moment.


tris said...

I agree, but there's not much that we can do. Firstly, you have to expect this under a Tory government. Dave is trying to show he's on top of this, and to a certain extent people want revenge. They don't realise that the people at the top caused an awful lot more misery to them than the rioters.

Of course, it's also being done under the English legal system in which we have, or should have, no say, as they have no say in ours.

I do think that Clegg should stand up to these people who after all spent 3 years at Oxford smashing up other people's property and causing fear and alarm in passers-by.

Any chance you could have a word with him and tell him that we expect, despite the coalition, that he should be a Liberal, not a Tory. :)

coldcomfort said...

So many of us suffer the delusion that there is some connection between 'the law' and 'justice'. There isn't & never has been. Going right back to Magna Carta the law has been written by the rich & powerful for the protection of the rich & powerful. In 1215 it was the Barons protecting their interests against the King. In 2011 it's the financiers, media celebrities et al protecting themselves against the ordinary voters.


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