Thursday, October 30, 2008

Community service carnage

According to the Telegraph, offenders on community service schemes or with suspended sentences have committed 120 murders in 2 years.

Between April 2006 and April this year, offenders serving community sentences and suspended sentences were convicted of a total of 121 murders.

There were a total of 1,004 serious crimes committed by offenders being supervised by the Probation Service, including 22 attempted murders, 103 rapes and 682 other serious violent or sexual offences.

So what does this tell us? Well, despite all the claims that prison doesn't work, it reminds us that prison works a bloody sight better than anything else at keeping criminals off the street. It also reminds us how the loss of the deterrent of hanging has led to a huge increase in incidences of murder.

But more than anything it tells us that our criminal justice system is run for the benefit of offenders rather than the victims, is designed to be convenient for the government rather than the governed and that nothing is likely to change in that soon.

In my opinion there are three changes we need now.

First of all, get rid of the CPS and have an elected County Prosecutor who is responsible for getting cases to court and who is accountable to the electorate of that county. Only when there is proper accountability to the electorate will we even begin to get proper criminal justice. It is not enough to say that the government is accountable because accountability gets lost in the fog of all the other things which government do. Criminal justice must have direct accountability.

Secondly, the overriding consideration when it comes to proceeding with a prosecution is not whether it is likely to get a result, but whether the victim is best served by going ahead with the case. Currently, as I understand it, the police take the evidence they have to the CPS and the CPS decide whether to proceed based on that evidence - and their major concern is getting a result, but that is not a decision it is theirs to make! Ultimately the decision is made by a jury and, despite everything, juries are ultimately subjective in their decisions. Consequently a jury may convict on evidence the CPS would not have considered enough to get a prosecution and they may also acquit on evidence the CPS considered safe. However arbitrary that may be, that is the way it should be - but if the case never gets to court then the jury will never get to decide. Right now, too many criminals are being " acquitted" by the CPS rather than jury.

Thirdly, bring back hanging. I know we can not do that as long as we remain in the EU, but capital punishment is the ONLY appropriate punishment for certain cases of cold-blooded murder. It should be used sparingly and cautiously, but it should be an option for our courts.

There are other things to be done too - not least providing sufficient prison spaces for offenders and making them properly austere places which are principally there to punish criminals and not just warehouses of damaged goods - but the three above are things I believe are needed first and foremost.

Most of all, our criminal justice system needs to be rebuilt to serve the law-abiding majority and not the criminals and needs to be accountable to those law-abiding people. As long as it remains separate and apart from us it will never be there to serve us.

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