Category Archives: criminal justice system (UK)

The long march of sentimentality

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Sudesh Amman

The absurdity of British criminal-justice policy over several decades at the behest of penological liberals

The British criminal-justice system, writes Dalrymple, is one of

elaborate and ceremonious frivolity.

The frivolity

is serious in its effects, not only for its immediate consequences on Britain’s crime rate but also because it undermines the legitimacy of the State, whose first and inescapable duty is to maintain enough order to secure the safety of citizens as they go about their lawful business.

Remission of prison sentences is automatic,

turning all judges into liars. When a judge says, ‘I sentence you to three years’ imprisonment,’ what he means is: ‘I sentence you to 18 months’ imprisonment.’

Appalling as terrorist violence is, the average person in Britain is many times more likely to be the victim of violent common crime than of terrorism, so that Boris Johnson’s announcement that the laws governing the sentencing of terrorists will be made more severe,

by fixing attention on what remains an uncommon problem and ignoring a far more prevalent one, may be doing a disservice.

Dalrymple says that good sense on criminal justice in Britain

will be difficult to put into practice, for a long march of sentimentality has occurred through the minds of the intelligentsia and élites in general. The father of the last man to be murdered by a terrorist recently released from prison said that he hoped his son’s death would not be used as an argument for more drastic sentencing of terrorists.

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Does one laugh or cry?

The British state places little value on lives criminally extinguished

Three men, who lodged together in a flat, allowed another man to stay with them, then beat him to death. The kind of things that prosecutors and police say about such murders shows, writes Dalrymple,

how far they have absorbed and accepted the thugs’ view of the world.

The prosecutor said:

There was no good reason to kill the victim, but they were all very drunk, and maybe that is an explanation.

Dalrymple comments:

This implies that the perpetrators might have had a good reason to kill the victim. It also accepts that extreme violence is a pharmacological effect of alcohol, which it is not—unlike, say, incoordination.

A policewoman said:

This was a brutal attack on a man outnumbered by the other three, who didn’t stand a chance to defend himself. My thoughts remain with the victim’s family. I hope the verdict brings them a sense of justice and allows them to come to terms with this tragic and senseless death.

Dalrymple comments:

Her statement implies that if the murder had been more chivalrous—two against one, say, or man to man—it would have been markedly less heinous, and therefore that it was the cowardice, not the killing, that was so reprehensible. The hope that the verdict alone would bring a sense of justice to the family was surely absurd, unless it was followed by appropriate punishment—as almost certainly it would not be.

The prosecutor and the policewoman’s remarks

show how far both have come to accept that chivalrous and sensible murders are an inevitable part of British life.

Britain’s preposterously lenient criminal-justice system

What’s behind the UK crime wave

Dalrymple points out that in England,

only 35% of those convicted of violent crimes go to prison; 36% receive community sentences; 20% get off with a warning.

Spain, he notes,

has a rate of imprisonment for violent crime nearly five times greater than Britain’s, and a much lower rate of violent crime—approximately one-fifth.

When liberal pœnology melts away like snow in spring

Dalrymple writes of the Lavinia Woodward case:

With the notable exception of the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, no one appeared to think that leniency was justified in Lavinia Woodward’s case. And it was the leniency, not the erroneously assumed harshness towards others, that caused people’s outrage. In all the envy and hatred expressed, liberal penology melted away like snow in spring. Woodward’s parents owned a beautiful villa in Tuscany, where she spent much of her time; she owned Chanel bags at $1,300 a throw; even while on bail, she went shopping for designer clothes.

A student from Magdalen College tweeted: ‘I’m not exactly a prison advocate but . . . a sentence should be a sentence, regardless of how smart/well-off/well-educated you are.’ It is difficult not to see in this, despite its genuflection in the direction of liberal penology (obligatory, no doubt, for the purposes of keeping caste), a desire that Woodward should have been sent to prison. Apparently, many students feared her, and perhaps would have felt better protected from her had she been imprisoned.

Why should others, lower on the social scale, not feel likewise protected when those who are violent towards them are punished by imprisonment? Yet it is the relatively poor perpetrator, not the rich one, who is the main beneficiary, or at least recipient, of the British criminal-justice system’s leniency: precisely the opposite of what most commentary on the case of Woodward would have us believe.

Why we read and re-read the doctor-essayist

Dalrymple is identified by an acute English journalist (also a skilled and powerful debater), Peter Hitchens, as

one of the greatest men of our age [second item in Hitchens’s 6th August 2017 column in the UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday].

For decades, Hitchens reminds us, Dalrymple

worked in a major British jail, listening to the excuses and self-justifications of people who had done terrible things to others, and to themselves.

Refusing to follow fashion,

and genuinely concerned for these often very sad characters, he treated them as adults, urging them to take responsibility for their actions instead of offering excuses for them. Many, who had come to despise authority, were glad to be up against someone they could not easily fool.

Hitchens’s guess is that many of those Dalrymple treated

benefited greatly from his tough-minded approach. He didn’t fill them with pills or substitute one drug for another. His observations of the way heroin abusers feign terrible discomfort, after arriving in prison and being deprived of their drug, is both funny and a badly needed corrective to conventional wisdom.

All this, Hitchens notes, is to be found in the Dalrymple collection The Knife Went In (2017).

The title, a quotation from an actual murderer, is an example of the way such people refuse to admit they had any part in the crimes they commit. The knife somehow got there and went into the victim, by itself. It is a series of short, gripping real-life stories in which he recounts his experiences with our broken, lying penal system with its fake prison sentences and its ridiculous form-filling as a substitute for action.

The book is mainly about prisons and crime, but, says Hitchens,

it tells a deep truth about the sort of society we have become. It is one in which almost nobody is, or wants to be, responsible for anything.

Hitchens concludes:

A future historian, a century hence, will learn more about 21st-century Britain from this book than from any official document.

Laxity of the criminal justice system

Dalrymple points out that the murder of a policeman by Karim Cheurfi, a Muslim terrorist, on the Champs-Elysées is another illustration of

the laxity of the French (and British) criminal justice system — a laxity which demonstrates a corrosive lack of cultural self-confidence.

An article in the Paris newspaper the Monde, Dalrymple notes,

said that the case of Cheurfi was bound to reignite debate on the ‘laxity’ (sic) of the French criminal justice system. It is symptomatic of the problem that the word laxity appeared as ‘laxity’, as though juridical negligence were a wild allegation, a figment of someone’s febrile imagination.

Dalrymple notes that people like Cheurfi

view themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators. According to an acquaintance, Cheurfi believed that the police had ruined his life because they had been instrumental in the long imprisonment that had left him unable to marry or have children at the usual age. After all, at the time, he had only stolen a car with a gun in his possession, and if the police had left him alone, no one would have been hurt.

Lawyers’ employment scheme

Prison, English-style

Prison, English-style

The revolving door of the criminal justice system

Dalrymple says (from 0:45) that he disagrees with the idea that prison should be, as he puts it,

a kind of hospital for criminals. That means you are saying criminals are ill.

The purpose of prison should be

the reduction of crime in the population, and the protection of the rest of the population.

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

The humanitarian theory of punishment is

very cruel. It is compatible both with ridiculous leniency and with revolting cruelty. If your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people.

Dalrymple points to the error

in thinking that prisons are there to reform people. It’s very good if they do — I have no objection — but that is not their purpose.

Most criminals, Dalrymple explains,

  • stop being criminal at the age of 35 to 39. In a sense they reform themselves
  • have done between five and 20 times as much as they have ever been accused of doing
A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

If you put these two things together, Dalrymple says,

it would be an argument for longer prison sentences rather than shorter ones. In the end this would reduce the number of prisoners rather than increase them, because often it’s a revolving door: they come out, they commit another crime. It’s a very good scheme of employment for lawyers.

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British prison

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British jail

HMP Birmingham

HMP Birmingham, site of a recent especially exuberant riot

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A convict lets off steam by smashing up the prison

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange: if your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people

The CCTV state

Every Briton has his Boswell

Every Briton has his Boswell

There is no evidence, writes Dalrymple, that continual surveillance deters or reduces crime.

Why should it, when the convicted have so little to fear from the courts?

The surveillance, he points out,

is intended not to protect or deter, but to intimidate.

When you get out, I’m fucking coming to fucking get you, you cunt

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 09.02.47So said a man,

whose physiognomy and deportment proclaimed him a member of the criminal classes,

sitting next to Dalrymple in court. The man made the threat — perfectly audible to the people in the court — to the accused who was entering the dock (protected by bulletproof glass).

He repeated the threat several times, and stared menacingly at the accused. The accused, who was mentally subnormal, turned away in fright.

Although it was not necessary, since everyone had heard what the man next to him had said, Dalrymple drew the attention of court officials to his threatening activities.

The officials did nothing, apart from the court clerk telling the man to desist, which he did—but only when, a little later, the judge entered. I subsequently became the object of his menacing regard.

That he had committed a crime

in the very heart of the criminal justice system, in front of many credible witnesses who could testify against him, and that no punishment followed, emblematised the paralysis into which not just the criminal justice system but the entire public administration of Britain has fallen. Outside the courtroom door, police patrolled with submachine guns directed at a notional threat; inside, a man committed a common crime with impunity. It was almost as if the policemen were protecting him rather than the law-abiding public.

It is easy to imagine, writes Dalrymple, the emboldening effect of the man’s court experience.

What fear need he have of a system too feeble even to demand obedience within its supposedly hallowed portals? I, on the other hand, had to look around as I left the court, in case he should be loitering with intent. Only the peaceful and law-abiding fear the law in Britain today.