Thursday 11 October 2012


There has long been a tiresome competition between successive UK Governments of different parties to come up with populist criminal justice measures which have tabloid appeal but are not based on evidence. This competition was suspended under the present government while good old uncle Ken (Clarke) kicked off his suede shoes, puffed his cigar benignly in the Ministry of Justice and restrained his colleague Theresa May over at the Home Office (who is also famous for her choice of shoes) from making rash policy suggestions. But with Ken gone it is business as usual.

Mrs May has come up with a corker and you have to pinch yourself to believe you heard her right. She proposes to set back jurisprudence 3,000 years by letting victims choose the punishment of criminals, thereby reintroducing the concepts of vengeance, vindictiveness and vendetta which dogged primitive societies and which law was invented to restrain.

People with a mental illness are often victims of crime and for the life of me I don’t see their interests being served by inviting them to get involved in invidious decisions about what to do with the people who have wronged them – they want the courts to sort that out while they get on with recovering their nerve.

Where people with a mental illness are the perpetrators of crimes it is important that sentences are expertly determined certainly to protect the public but also to advance their recovery and rehabilitation, not matters which a victim is likely to know much about or want to consider.

Everybody agrees that victims need better support but that should not be confused with a fundamental principle of civilised societies that determining punishment is a matter for society as a whole and must be removed from the context of personal conflict.

There were two other proposals. Some chaotic or out-of-control people with a mental illness may face injury - or even death - from the wheeze of allowing householders to use disproportionate violence against intruders. Doesn't "disproportionate" mean "unreasonable" and so this must a priori be wrong? Isn't defining what is proportionate or reasonable the real issue here? And the "Two strikes means life" idea will inevitably lead to injustice as specific cases come to court - such catch-alls (aping similarly simplistic and now discredited measures in the US) always do...

Link to Hafal's criminal justice services here.