Justice is also a dish best served cold

December 6, 2011 48 Comments
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Over at Max Farquar’s blog and one or two others is an horrific story of a very young child, a baby in fact, who has been brutally raped. As yet few details are known – even the baby’s gender isn’t certain and whether the poor kid is critical or has in fact died from the injuries is also up in the air. Other than that a really nasty assault with some terrible injuries has taken place and that the parents were arrested and then bailed far more is not known than is known.

Max, who I have a lot of time for as I agree with much of what he says, wrote this:

North Kent police have said that a 35-year-old man was subsequently arrested, on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and rape, along with a 33-year-old woman. They were both from the Gravesend area and were detained in a North Kent police station. However, they have now been released on bail.
Released on bail?
WTF! A one month old baby has been raped!
Who is the 35-year-old man, that is walking free after raping a one month old baby? Is he the father or is he the boyfriend of the 33-year-old woman that has also been released on bail? Do we presume she is the mother? Someone, somewhere out there must know who these loathsome, disgusting and unbelievable evil people excuses for human beings are!
It’s time to name and shame.

Here’s my problem.

With respect to Max, we don’t as yet know that anyone’s walking free after raping a baby and so no it’s not time to name and shame. It’s time to thoroughly investigate, identify the guilty party(s), build an absolutely watertight case with extra attention to detail given to all the human rights – yes, I know, but hear me out – of any initial suspects and the eventual accused. And there are two reasons – first is that we all know the police screw up from time to time and arrest the wrong people, and right this second we can’t honesty say that those arrested are guilty of anything. Suspected, yes, sure, but right now they haven’t even been charged and in law they are innocent ’til proven guilty, just the same as everyone else. This is not a triviality. This is not showing more concern for the human rights of the perpetrators, who I repeat are not as yet known to be the perpetrators, than it is for the victim. This is absolutely essential for law to work at all. As Bolt’s Sir Thomas More put it:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

The second reason is more prosaic. I’m appalled by this crime and I want to know that someone is punished for it. I want to hear that they got the bastard, that he was tried, convicted and locked away like an animal. And if he appeals I want to be confident that he’s got no hope at all and the Appeals Court will reject it in very short order because the police and CPS did a thorough job, cutting no corners and respecting the accused’s rights at every step of the process. I said they were important, and that’s why – it’s not just that some accused really are innocent but also that you don’t want it to become a get out of jail free card for the guilty ones later on.

Naming and shaming now, if the eventual accused is indeed the one who gets named, puts that all that at risk if the defence persuades the court that it’s prejudiced the jury and a fair trial is no longer possible. And before we start launching into defence barristers, see above – if you’d been charged and you were innocent you’d be wanting the barrister to do absolutely everything, play every angle at every stage, to get you out of there and back to your life, and if we want that for innocents accidentally put on trial or maliciously fitted up then it’s got to be done for the crims too. It’s not perfect but that way we know  If there’s no trial, no guilt can ever be proven, and I don’t trust British mobs to get it right when people have been known to attack the house of a paediatrician.

The disgust I feel over the idea that someone of technically the same species could do this to a tiny baby meant that I struggled to blog anything right away. There is no just punishment for this, none. There can’t be. We’re not a society that tortures people to death over extended periods anymore, and we’re the better for it, but even if we were I’m not even sure Leg-iron’s suggestion of hacking their legs off at the knee and standing them in salt is enough. Death certainly isn’t, and not just because it’d be sending him off to a hell I don’t believe in but because even if I’m wrong and there is one the bastard would get the opportunity of absolution before he got the rope or the needle or whatever. Spending the remainder of his miserable existence hearing the whispers, knowing from the beginning that the first beating – and worse – will come sooner or later, and then over the years learning from the less than gentle ministrations of fellow prisoners that the most frightening sight is an absence of screws and the worst sound is the small metallic click of a door that should remain shut being quietly unlocked, being moved for his safety and living in terror of the moment that who he is and what he’s in for will become known in the new prison, that might well be the closest thing a civilised society can do for a just punishment.

We should want as many waking moments of this creature’s remaining life as possible to be filled with nervous fear, and as many filled with terror and pain as other guests of Mrs Majesty’s prison system are able to supply. The best chance of all that happening is to name no names except to police officers. If folks on the blogosphere or Twitter or Facebook blab enough to screw up a trial, or even any chance of there being a trial, then they’d almost be accessories to the crime. Because the perpetrator of this evil will go free and those who named him will all have helped. Jeez, if he gets a new ID and life somewhere at taxpayers’ expense the blogs and twitterers and facebookers might as well have clubbed together and bought the bastard clean docs and a ticket abroad.

I’m not suggesting – would never suggest – any restrictions on what can or can’t be written online, but sometimes care is needed if what we hope for is to stand the best chance of actually happening. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Quite often so is justice.

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48 Responses to Justice is also a dish best served cold

  1. December 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I’m appalled by this crime and I want to know that someone is punished for it.

    It hasn’t been established that there is any crime at the moment.

    The police have said there was a reported incident, meaning the hospital rang them and expressed concern that they couldn’t easily account for the injuries. So far all we know is that there are alleged fractures and alleged organ damage.

    The number of cases of alleged inflicted fractures which turn out to be bone diseases is surprising, and the organ damage we don’t know about yet – and won’t until the trial, if any.

    Right now the emphasis is on the recovery of the child – who was stable yesterday according to a press conference the police gave – and specialist examination. This may even involve US medics as the furore about ours means that sometimes – as in the baby P case – there are questions about the medical care and who should have raised what alarm. It makes investigation very difficult if medics start covering their backsides too.

    A month-old baby is still receiving a weekly health visitor and the midwife has barely stopped attending the mother. The ages given here for the arrested persons are older than I would normally expect in such a case.

    All in all, holster the outrage until some more details are out as this has obviously got a much bigger back-story. Above all, remember that not all injuries are inflicted – some of them occur accidentally or as a result of undiagnosed conditions.

    Your point about the damage of identity at the moment is a very good one; we could end up having to fork out for new IDs for innnocent people, let alone guilty ones, since mob rule doesn’t appear to want to take much notice of quaint notions such as proof of guilt.

    • December 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      It hasn’t been established that there is any crime at the moment.

      Correction accepted, and Julia’s said something similar at mine about the reports saying “injuries consistent with”. Still, I do wonder if that isn’t legalese for “Don’t have a victim capable of articulating what happened so we have to watch what we say a bit.” In my defence I wrote the post almost entirely in response to what’s been said both on blogs and comments at Max’s and others, where I’d got the impression that there was no doubt that an assault had in fact taken place. If even that is still in doubt if anything it emphasises what I’ve said wrt letting the investigation run its course and not leaping to judging those arrested. My outrage is very much holstered, or is at least as conditional on the crime having happened as its target is conditional on having been convicted beyond reasonable doubt.

      Edit:
      … we could end up having to fork out for new IDs for innnocent people, let alone guilty ones, since mob rule doesn’t appear to want to take much notice of quaint notions such as proof of guilt.

      Indeed, and that’s every bit as worrying because in the event there’s never enough evidence to prosecute some people will never believe that whatever name they’ve heard might be innocent.

  2. nisakiman
    December 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    I must admit that when I read Max’s blog yesterday my thoughts ran very much in the same direction as yours. I thought it out of character and somewhat incendiary.

    It is all too easy to act as judge, jury and executioner; it is also all too easy to make mistakes – particularly when the situation is as emotive as this one is.

  3. December 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    A fascinating documentary, if you get a chance to see it, is “Being Maxine Carr” (the girlfriend of killer Ian Huntley).

    This tells the stories of people who have been mistaken for Carr and difficulty the police have had convincing the neighbours that they’ve got it completely wrong.

    It was a real eye-opener for me. The police can walk round with photos, go to the neighbours and say “Look, here is a published and verified biography of your next door neighbour. Here are her wedding photos. She looks nothing like Carr. It’s not Maxine Carr, this is me, a police officer, telling you.”

    And the neighbours go “Yeah, well, they can do plastic surgery and and make fake passports, so you’ve been taken in too”. They even do it on camera. Utter lunacy.

    Usually, the poor woman who has been mistaken for Carr – and there have been several of them – has to move as the neighbours simply will not accept they are wrong.

    link to channel4.com

    • December 7, 2011 at 4:41 am

      Depressing but not surprised to hear it. I recall hearing something very similar about some poor guy that everyone was convinced was Jon Venables under a new ID. I think I read that he thought he was going to get lynched in the pub and had to do a runner sharpish, and of course every time he moved word would get out that he’d changed location for his protection which made people think there was substance to the rumours. Catch 22 – move and look guilty or stay put and get murdered because of mistaken identity. Hopefully his life has returned to normal now that Venables has turned up and been sent back to prison, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still looking over his shoulder because idiots have convinced themselves that the re-arrest was a cover story and still believe this unfortunate bloke is Venables.

      Can’t help thinking that this feeling the UK’s slipping into mob justice is at least partly to do with sentencing that appears very soft, at least on the surface. People who looked a bit like Myra Hindley or Ian Brady weren’t losing sleep at night and wondering if bricks would come through the window, and that’s because everyone knew that Hindley and Brady were locked up. The feeling is that Venables and Thomson, and also Maxine Carr, got off too bloody lightly (and they forget that Carr was not involved in the killings at any stage but just gave the killer a false alibi in the belief that he was innocent), and that they’re far from unusual in that regard. JuliaM was blogging on one the other day where a pissed up gang of Somali girls got non-custodial sentences because the judge said being Muslims they couldn’t handle their drink. I accept that sometimes there are good reasons for a seemingly soft sentence that upsets people but sometimes the reasons are weak or poorly stated, and that risks mobs. This time it doesn’t seem as if the mob is even waiting for a court case, which may be a worrying sign that people are starting to assume that the law will fail to deliver justice anyway.

      • December 7, 2011 at 5:58 am

        “Can’t help thinking that this feeling the UK’s slipping into mob justice is at least partly to do with sentencing that appears very soft, at least on the surface. People who looked a bit like Myra Hindley or Ian Brady weren’t losing sleep at night and wondering if bricks would come through the window, and that’s because everyone knew that Hindley and Brady were locked up. “

        Spot on!

      • Katherine
        December 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

        The ‘getting off lightly’ is a load of nonsense also though. Thompson and Venables actually got unprecedented long sentences for children of that age. Even Mary Bell only served a couple of years more than they did – and she killed two toddlers. The idea that they had to serve that sentence for a crime committed as children and then be punished again as if they committed it as adults is merely an indication of the idiocy of people’s mentality. In almost every other European country (and probably most other countries in the world actually – including China and Iran); they wouldn’t have even been charged with a crime.

        Venables and Thompson are NOT Hindley and Brady. They are not serial killers. The fact that they are put in the same league as them goes to show how low the British intellect (not to mention decency) has sunk.

        And sentences for murderers are generally much longer than they were 30 years ago. What the tabloids tell us is often very far from the truth.

        • December 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

          I think this is a slightly tangential to whether the UK is slipping towards mob justice, and if so why and whether public perceptions are a factor, but it deserves a response.

          Thomson and Venables did get unusual sentences for children that age, but then it was a highly unusual crime. However, I’m not sure you can call really it unprecedented when you said yourself that Mary Bell got “a couple of years more” – actually four more – than they did at near enough the same age. Yes, she killed twice but you’re forgetting that she wasn’t convicted of murder but only manslaughter with diminished responsibility. Because of that she was sentenced to be detained at Mrs Queen’s pleasure – in fact exactly the same sentence as Venables and Thomson. The difference was that her time served was 50% longer despite the lesser offence and despite the circumstances that led to that diminished responsibility verdict. In addition the judge in the Bulger case said that they’d be ‘in custody for many, many years’ (8 was merely the bare minimum) and reports at the time speculated that it would be around 20 years. As far as the issue of mob justice and the potential for fallout in cases of mistaken identity goes it’s about perception, and surely it’s not that hard to see why the perception is that the pair got off fairly lightly, serving only the absolute minimum the trial judge recommended.

          The idea that they had to serve that sentence for a crime committed as children and then be punished again as if they committed it as adults…

          Sorry, but that’s not the idea at all. One crime, one sentence, that’s it – and I presume you’d agree that that’s fair. However, the form of custody must always be appropriate to the person being detained, and if someone too young for an adult prison receives a sentence during which he will grow too old for where he’s sent initially, just as they might be moved to a different institution for any number of different reasons. Jeffrey Archer served his sentence in five different nicks from category A all the way down to an open prison, but we wouldn’t say he was punished five times.

          Going back to V&T, let’s split the difference between their actual ages and legal adulthood and imagine what would have happened if the pair had been 14 and everything else had been equal. Would the transfer from secure unit or YO facility to somewhere more appropriate be a second sentence? No, of course not – it would just be the second half of the sentence. The question of their doing time in an adult nick had nothing to do with punishing them twice and was all about whether they were punished adequately. I think the desire of so many people that they spend at least some time in an adult prison was simply that it seemed unjust that they could be free for their whole adult lives after such an awful crime (for which the judge said they’d be detained for ‘many, many years’, remember). Again, it’s worth remembering that Mary Bell was not despite being convicted of a lesser crime.

          In almost every other European country (and probably most other countries in the world actually – including China and Iran); they wouldn’t have even been charged with a crime.

          And? If they’d done it six months earlier they wouldn’t have been charged with anything in Britain either. Not sure about most other countries but in plenty they could have been charged at an even younger age, as young as 6 in places. But again, so what? For what it’s worth I’d say that the idea of any age of criminal responsibility is ridiculous since people mature at different rates and I’d prefer to leave deciding culpability to courts and juries. As it is – or rather was at the time of the Bulger case – English law still presumed that children aged 10-14 weren’t culpable unless the prosecution could demonstrate otherwise. Had the prosecution failed to show that Venables and Bulger were capable of telling right from wrong the case would have stopped right there. Frankly the only real problem I have with that trial is that it was done with wigs, gowns and all the bells and whistles, but I’m don’t think that would have affected the finding that they were culpable as well as physically committed the murder.

          Venables and Thompson are NOT Hindley and Brady. They are not serial killers. The fact that they are put in the same league as them goes to show how low the British intellect (not to mention decency) has sunk.

          I think you’ve missed my point. I was not comparing them or their crime with those of Hindley and Brady or suggesting they’re in the same league, and in fact I used H&B only because their names are about as well known. I was pointing out that people who might have been mistaken for Hindley and Brady had little to worry about compared with people who might be mistaken for Venables or Thomson.

          And sentences for murderers are generally much longer than they were 30 years ago.

          Do you have a source for that? I’m just interested – not saying it’s otherwise. And I’m certainly not arguing about what’s in the papers, though they’re usually guilty of sins of omission WRT the trial and making a fair sentence seem soft rather than saying someone served X years when it was Y.

          • Katherine
            December 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

            It’s not difficult to find the sources. The average tariff has increased significantly – as has the handing out of whole life terms (six in this year alone – there were only 8 in the whole decade of the 1980s). Suffice to say there is a HUGE difference in what people think and the actual facts.

            This, however should help:

            link to parliament.uk

            The current average tariff people spend for murder is 17 years. 30 years ago, that figure was 10 years. In fact, it has even increased since 2000 when the average tariff was around 14 years.

            As for your points about the Bulger case, I would argue that the only reason murder was given and not manslaughter was because the verdict had been decided before the trial (a trial that was declared unfair by the ECHR). The idea that two ten year olds have the mens rea required for murder (an adult sense of malice aforethought) is pathetic. Even some of the jurors said they regretted the verdict afterwards. It was a show trial – done to sate some kind of sick medieval vengeance – pure and simple.

            These were ten year old children and in my opinion, the way they were punished (whatever my feelings about the age of responsibility and the trial) was bang on right.

            That people think they weren’t punished ‘enough’ is simply stupid. They were locked away at 10, never had a proper adolescence, had every single day meticulously planned and restricted (I’m familiar with child secure units btw), were taken away from their families, denied things that teenagers take for granted (girlfriends, parties, breaking the odd rule). I know of kids who actually prefer YOIs to secure units because YOIs are more like a prison and you can, if you are over 16, choose to sit on you arse in your cell all day doing nothing for the entirety of your sentence.

            But then again, what people ‘think’ is usually far from the reality. If the Bulger killers had gone onto an adult prison, chances are it would have been an open YOI for two years (the 15 year tariff having been declared unlawful) where they would have worked/studied outside and spent weekends at home, most likely.

            But then people think the murder rate has increased when in fact it is the lowest it has been for over 30 years!

            As for what my opinion is re a 14 year old. I believe a 14 year old has a greater level of criminal responsibility in any case – there is a huge difference between someone who is 10 and someone who is 14. I would have no problem with a 14 year old continuing their tariff in an adult prison when the time comes.

            And with regards to vigilante lunacy. As you can see, this has nothing to do with ‘softness of sentencing’. Sentencing is HARSHER these days, not softer and everything to do with people being ignorant and stupid.

            • December 11, 2011 at 7:44 am

              Averages are just that: averages.

              It doesn’t take more than one or two ‘abnormalities’ to make people think that, on the whole, the justice system isn’t working, since the case of the man getting a light sentence will be in the news, and the three getting the ‘correct’ (though possibly still inadequate) sentence won’t be…

              And there’s not necessarily a correlation between being ‘ignorant and stupid’ and thinking that justice is a joke in this country, and doesn’t serve society or the victims well.

              As for my take on the Bulger killing, my personal belief is that – humans being visual creatures – the reason for the increased focus is solely that video existed of part of the crime.

              Contrast this with the equally horrific behaviour of the two Edlington psychopaths-in-waiting (who didn’t kill their victim only through sheer good luck) to see the disparity.

              • Katherine
                December 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm

                You see this is another issue. People calling children ‘psychopaths’. On what basis? Despite a child’s basic understanding of right and wrong, empathy doesn’t really start to develop until the teens (and isn’t fully developed until the mid twenties actually). I’m afraid that is merely more ignorance.

                You can suggest that a child might indicate some psychopathic traits but that in no way gives any clue as to whether he or she might turn out to be a psychopath. I bring up Mary Bell again. She was called a ‘psychopath’. In fact it was that diagnosis that got her a manslaughter conviction rather than a murder one yet in adulthood she turned out to be nothing like a pyschopath – in fact relatively normal given her background.

                Children usually act out their home lives which is why it is impossible to tell at age 10/11 whether they are acting out from a personality disorder or from domestic experience. Most child/adolescent psychiatrists would never claim to be able to tell. (They might suggest it is a possibility in the future but they would never diagnose a child as a psychopath).

                And actually there IS a correlation between being ‘ignorant and stupid’ and believing tabloid nonsense about the justice system in this country. The justice system is harsher that it has ever been on offenders – longer sentences and greater liklihood of imprisonment for less.

              • December 12, 2011 at 5:43 am

                “Despite a child’s basic understanding of right and wrong, empathy doesn’t really start to develop until the teens (and isn’t fully developed until the mid twenties actually). “

                And yet, the vast majority of children don’t kidnap, torture, rape or murder.

                Fancy that!

            • December 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

              The current average tariff people spend for murder is 17 years. 30 years ago, that figure was 10 years. In fact, it has even increased since 2000 when the average tariff was around 14 years.

              As always when shown such specific dates I have to wonder why those particular ones. Why the relatively short period? What would we find if we chose to look at four decades worth rather than three? Or five? Bear in mind that the baby boomers were sold abolition on the basis that ‘life’ would mean life and in the main do not feel that they were let down immediately. (For the record I’m against both capital punishment and ‘life’ always meaning life, though for other reasons.)

              As for your points about the Bulger case, I would argue that the only reason murder was given and not manslaughter was because the verdict had been decided before the trial (a trial that was declared unfair by the ECHR).

              Sorry, not convinced. They had the benefit of presumed innocence due to their age unless this could be rebutted, which it was, and to suggest that the verdict was pre-determined and that was why it was a manslaughter conviction doesn’t hold up for precisely the same reason. That they knew what they were doing was wrong and that the outcome of their actions would result in the death of another boy was established to the satisfaction of the court. Now if you’re saying the expert witnesses stuffed up so the court got that wrong in that case that’s something different, but odd that no appeal was made on those specific grounds. In short mens rea was established and most people don’t have a problem with that because most people, as ten year olds, would have understood that it was very, very wrong. Yes, I’ve seen what you’ve said to Julia about this being ‘crassly simplistic’, but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid. We don’t accept that children aren’t developed at all, we just tell ourselves that lie even as we forget that we were doing – and enjoying – many of the things at the same age as the ‘children’, or rather adolescents, we now fret about. We do children a great disservice to insist on treating them as children for so long, and I’d say we’re often underrating their capacity for maturity (hence the wildly varying age limits around the world). The idea that such things can be determined with an arbitrary age limit with maturity on one side and immaturity on the other is the kind of fairy story only grown ups could believe in. Better to decide each case on it’s merits, which is what happened in the Bulger murder trial.

              Another point on the alleged predetermined outcome. Are you seriously suggesting that the verdict was decided in advance to please the mob, but that the judge was allowed to make a minimum recommendation that would piss the mob off, have the Sun readers signing petitions, and eventually lead to the Home Sec making an ultra vires decision to increase the minimum tariff to 15 years? Oh, and also that those members of the jury who’ve since expressed doubts have said nothing to support the idea of a predetermined verdict? We could probably come up with something to explain all that, but Occam’s Razor would suggest that actually, yeah, they got a fair trial.

              The only thing in which I vaguely agree with the ECHR was that the adult format – wigs, gowns and all the bells and whistles – was unnecessarily theatrical and intimidating. But I’m not a traditionalist and would say something similar if they’d both been in their 50s and not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Can’t see that it would have affected either the verdict or sentence, so while I think it was OTT it’s not something I lose sleep over.

              …the way they were punished (whatever my feelings about the age of responsibility and the trial) was bang on right.

              Hang on. First you seem to suggest it was harsh and unjust, mentioning the unprecedented sentence (which wasn’t) and even suggesting that they were stitched up in a show trial, and then you say it was about right. Which is it?

              They were locked away at 10, never had a proper adolescence, had every single day meticulously planned and restricted…

              And? I’m sorry to keep bringing this up but they were convicted of something, and I thought the idea of the secure unit with its planning and restrictions was to give them the kind of structure that they’d lacked before then. For it’s rehabilitative value that might be fine, but that’s not the only thing they were supposed to be there for.

              As for what my opinion is re a 14 year old. I believe a 14 year old has a greater level of criminal responsibility in any case – there is a huge difference between someone who is 10 and someone who is 14.

              I specifically said all else being equal to exclude relative criminal responsibility. This may not be likely but is not impossible, and likelihood isn’t all that relevant for thought experiments anyway. Still, you don’t see this as a second punishment and that was all I was getting at. So if the trial judge – who let’s remember never suggested that they should not do any time in a YOI or prison and in fact strongly implied that they should expect to – had specified a longer minimum than 8 years, say the 10 that the Lord Chief Justice said only a few days after the verdict or even the 15 that Howard tried to impose, this would not be a second punishment at all.

              And with regards to vigilante lunacy. As you can see, this has nothing to do with ‘softness of sentencing’. Sentencing is HARSHER these days, not softer and everything to do with people being ignorant and stupid.

              :roll: Please re-read what I’ve been saying wrt public perceptions. It has everything to do with perceived soft sentencing. Yes, we both know that for many people soft=not instantly taking them into a yard for half a cigarette and a 9mm hollow-point, but I suspect a lot has to do with the vast amount of low level crime that goes relatively unpunished (see Julia’s blog for myriad examples of repeat offenders who’ve yet to serve any jail time at all and who’ve often had more than one ‘last chance to mend your ways’ type warnings from the bench) or even un-investigated due to lack of police resources. Between that and the older generation who remember when murderers either served decades or no more time than was needed to calculate the drop and length of rope that’s all that’s needed for a perceived soft on crime culture.

              And I realise you feel strongly about this but is there any chance you could drop the ALL CAPS? Feels like I’m reading a red top. If you want to add emphasis the comments will let you use HTML tags.

  4. Maaarrghk!
    December 7, 2011 at 6:09 am

    I seem to remember the guy who got set up as “being Jon Venables” being the victim of a scam set up by a spiteful ex-girlfriend.

    • December 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

      If so that takes the prize for spiteful exes. :shock: Christ, what a thing to say about someone.

      • Tattyfalarr
        December 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

        Silly bitch was bloody lucky she didn’t get slaughtered herself for having consorted with “Jon Venables”, ex or not. Be careful what you wish for. :roll:

        • Tattyfalarr
          December 8, 2011 at 10:32 am

          Having read that back now fully awake I should point out I don’t advocate slaughtering anyone…just tried to point out that in encouraging the murderous wrath of mob mentality she laid herself wide open to attack by the same mob.

          Which is pretty much the whole point of the blog post.

  5. Katherine
    December 12, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Regarding this:

    ‘the vast majority of children don’t kidnap, torture, rape or murder’

    So what? The vast majority of children don’t do lots of things. This is a crassly simplistic response.

    Why is it that we don’t allow children to sit on juries? Or drive, or have sex, or smoke, or drink, or vote? It is because we accept that they are not sufficiently developed enough reason-wise or have a proper understanding of risk. What makes criminal justice so different?

    • December 12, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Lack of maturity to carry out adult tasks does not mean that they are incapable of differentiating between right and wrong and therefore having criminal responsibility when they break the law. Your argument is a non sequitur. And, er crassly simplistic ;)

  6. Katherine
    December 12, 2011 at 8:36 am

    It is always amazing to me how much hatred and vitriol poured on children who commit crimes – despite the fact that according to the law, age is a mitigating factor in crime, not an aggravating one.

    This guy (a 27 year old adult) killed his son because he was crying and only received 9 years. He will serve just half of it (convicted of manslaughter, not murder) – yet he hardly got a mention in any press reports.

    link to bbc.co.uk

    But Thompson and Venables – two troubled and disturbed ten year olds; one of them – Thompson – who had been subjected to brutal abuse and neglect and the other – Venables – clearly suffering from a childhood mental disorder (a serious self-harmer) – are eternal objects of hatred and sick desires for vengeance.

    It is no wonder there is an anonymity order. Some people’s reactions to them are utterly disgraceful. What gets me is that they don’t want to unleash horrible punishment on Thompson and Venables the grown men – they want to do it to their ten year old selves. People need to think very seriously about what that says about them.

    • December 12, 2011 at 9:30 am

      This guy (a 27 year old adult) killed his son because he was crying and only received 9 years.

      You know how you’re trying to persuade everyone that sentencing is harsher these days? Finding someone who’s going to do less than 5 years for killing a 14 month old mightn’t be the best way to go about that.

      … he hardly got a mention in any press reports.

      What, you mean apart from the one from the UK’s best known national broadcaster with a link at the bottom to an earlier article on the same case? And the one in the Metro, the Mirror, the Times, the PA… :) Yes, okay, far less than the pages and pages on the Bulger case but we all know how it works. Had something else pushed the Bulger case off the headlines at the time or if the murder had been committed on, say, September 10th 2001, there’d have been far less.

      • Katherine
        December 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

        If he’d been convicted 30 years ago, chances are he’d have only got 3 years for that manslaughter. And by the way, it was a JURY who found him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder – it was, after all, a murder trial. So the ‘justice system’ isn’t to blame for the lesser conviction – a jury picked from the public is. The ‘justice system’ tried to get him convicted of murder.

        Be honest – had you heard of his name? Or even the case?

        Fact is, there was something repellent about people’s obsession with the Bulger killing (even to the point of people adding their own bits to the crime to make it bizzarely worse – such as batteries up the anus (false), cutting fingers off with scissors (false) etc.) as if they were getting off on torture porn.

        And actually the Bulger killing isn’t representative of anything. It is unusual – yes, but not unheard of. Such killings happen occasionally all over the world – it really was indicative of nothing (apart from, perhaps the old saying that hard cases make bad law).

        A similar case happened in England in the nineteenth century:

        link to independent.co.uk

        In San Francisco in the 1970s:

        link to independent.co.uk

        In Norway a couple of years after the Bulger killing:

        link to guardian.co.uk

        They are rare but not absolutely exceptional circumstances. They can really tell us nothing about youth offending but it is interesting that in every single case mentioned, not a single child has gone on to kill again (some, like Venables have offended in a lesser way but none have come close to committing the heinous act of their childhood).

        In other words – not a single one of them is, actually, a ‘psychopath’. Moreover, every single one of them came from violent, neglectful households. And it isn’t remotely relevant to say ‘others come from such households and don’t murder’. Human beings are not a homogenous group – we don’t all react in the same way to trauma.

        • December 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm

          And by the way, it was a JURY who found him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder – it was, after all, a murder trial.

          I know how it works, thank you, randomly SHOUTED word lady. Where did I say it was not a jury? Where did I second guess their verdict? Where did I blame the anyone or even suggest it was a lesser conviction rather than an appropriate one in the circumstances? On the face of it I’d probably have said manslaughter if I’d been on that jury. Whether I’d say the same for the judge’s sentencing isn’t an easy answer, but I’m not second guessing the guy when I draw attention to the incongruousness of someone arguing that sentences are harsh offering an example of someone who’d killed their child getting the same kind of sentence as someone supplying coke to the cashed up and too posh for meth.

          Be honest – had you heard of his name? Or even the case?

          Wrong person to ask. Evidently you’ve not looked at my profile or you’d know that I live ten thousand miles from the nearest W.H. Smith’s. It has to be either moderately earth shattering or utterly inconsequential but about the Royal Fam for the media here to pick up on it. I follow what goes on in the old country as best I can over the web but if it doesn’t appear in the right RSS feed then I don’t see it unless someone on my blogroll writes about it.

          Fact is, there was something repellent about people’s obsession with the Bulger killing…

          Yes, it’s unedifying. Agreed, but once again, so what? So’s the X Factor and soccer and umpteen other things. People are how they are, and in fairness there was something pretty repellant to most about the Bulger killing too, even the unembellished version. Did it repel me? Sure, all unnecessary killing does. Am I obsessed with it? Dunno, but I’m not the one who won’t let it drop about how severe/fair (delete as applicable) it all was on the two boys found by a court to have kidnapped a toddler and beat him to death in the knowledge that doing so was wrong.

          And yes, a lot of embellishment was added to that, most notably in the chain mails that went around (coincidentally I got the one claiming that they were absolutely for certain positively here in Australia a couple of weeks before Venables was arrested again last year – I can’t remember whether I bothered mailing back and explaining why it was largely bullshit). Again, so what? In that case the explanation is far more prosaic: plain old fashioned communication malfucktion. Hell’s bells, did you never play Chinese Whispers? We all know how the important qualifiers ‘may’, ‘could’, ‘might’ and so on get lost at each stage and how things that are said to be possibilities and speculation are rapidly asserted to be facts. I made that mistake in the post having either missed or misread that the baby ‘rape’ was in fact ‘injuries consistent with rape’, and this on a piece opposing vigilantism and arguing for cool heads and letting the investigation and any prosecution perform their functions.

          It is unusual – yes, but not unheard of.

          Yes, I think I recall saying it was unusual and I’ve just checked to make sure I did not say it was unheard of. And of course Mary Bell’s name has been mentioned several times. Now and then kids kill kids, but since nobody’s suggesting otherwise, once again, so what? The issue with V & T is more that the term served seem to comply with the absolute letter of the sentence rather than its spirit – ‘in custody for very, very many years.’ Find me any native English speaker who would say that eight of something could reasonably be described as ‘very, very many.’ Again, this is not second guessing the judge, who might well have expected that the chance of either of them, let alone both, being rehabilitated so fully and swiftly that they’d serve the minimum he’d set was pretty low.

          … it really was indicative of nothing (apart from, perhaps the old saying that hard cases make bad law).

          One of my favourite sayings, and if we were talking about about one of the various eponymous laws named for some poor dead kid I’d agree. But as far as I remember no law was made as a result of the Bulger case. Nearly set a slightly worrying precedent wrt to the powers of the Home Sec, but as we all know that was later ruled ultra vires.

          In other words – not a single one of them is, actually, a ‘psychopath’.

          Psychopaths. Yet another thing I’ve not actually said, though in the case of V & T I believe that some trick cyclists suggested that one or both showed some signs of psychopathy. But no, I’m sure they weren’t psychopaths (in the clinical sense rather than the vernacular), because they were found guilty of murder instead of manslaughter with diminished responsibility.

          Moreover, every single one of them came from violent, neglectful households.

          Again, so? You get a free pass for a shitty childhood or what? No, of course not, but what then? Look, I’m not saying they weren’t made that way and that they might have been Nobel peace prize winners with a different upbringing, but the bottom line is they what they actually became were murderers. I don’t think it’s not irrelevant to wonder why the most common reaction among others from similar backgrounds is not to go out and murder, but I do think it is really of academic interest. I really don’t give a rip why the bastards who once broke into my car did so, I just wish they hadn’t stolen my stuff.

          • Katherine
            December 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

            Have you heard of the ‘control theory’ in criminology? There is a lot of debate about why more people don’t commit crime (in general – not just murder). Most people conform – deviancy is the realm of the few. I have no real answers to why this is but it is an interesting question.

            As for psychopathy, this would not preclude a murder conviction (Sutcliffe was diagnosed with both psychopathy and paranoid schizophrenia – it didn’t get his conviction reduced to manslaughter). I maintain that the only reason T&V got a murder conviction was because a murder conviction had already been decided before the trial. I also maintain that a real criminal mens rea for murder cannot be present in a ten year old.

            I didn’t say that you were mentioning psychopaths by the way – someone else did – with regard to the Edlington case.

            I think the Bulger case did affect youth justice – for the worse. The incarceration rate for juveniles skyrocketed after the conviction (along with the recidivism rate). Young people were being imprisoned at a greater rate for less and there was a distinctly more punitive edge.

            Michael Howard of course bit off more than he could chew – acting against the law in his tariff setting. The 1933 Children’s Act enshrined in law the idea that the priority for children convicted of serious crime should be care and rehabilitation – not retributive punishment. The state had a duty of care towards Thompson and Venables (and this had nothing to do with wishy washy European law but our own pre-Europe law) and this was disregarded by Howard.

            Personally, I think the biggest mistake of all was naming them. The nation would have been much better off had that not happened and there would be no need of anonymity orders. The justice system appear to have learned and the two children involved in the Doncaster case were not named. The report into Jon Venables’ reoffending by Omand suggested such children will never be named again. Good thing too.

            • December 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm

              As I’ve touched on already, there is in fact a hell of a lot of crime being committed on a daily basis by the majority of people, but it’s largely victimless, technical offences. But yes, it’s an interest question why more people don’t commit ‘real’ crime. I’m not familiar with the theory you mention and have only had a quick read of the Wikipedia page for rough background. As with anything that involves what goes on inside people’s heads it seems speculative, but so is my preferred theory – that mostly people are basically fair when it comes right down to it. Since there have been a number of studies suggesting a similar sense of fairness in other great apes and even monkeys I think this isn’t a big stretch.

              As for psychopathy, this would not preclude a murder conviction (Sutcliffe was diagnosed with both psychopathy and paranoid schizophrenia – it didn’t get his conviction reduced to manslaughter).

              Didn’t say it would preclude it, but with the presumption of innocence and the then law wrt 10-14 year olds clinical psychopathy would have made a manslaughter verdict very likely, just as it did with Mary Bell.

              I didn’t say that you were mentioning psychopaths by the way – someone else did…

              Yes, Julia used the term (you’d need to ask her if it was meant clinically or not) but since you brought it up in your reply to me naturally I thought it was a response to a remark of mine.

              I think the Bulger case did affect youth justice – for the worse.

              It may have made for bad policy rather than bad law, but I’d argue that it was only a rearranging of the Titanic’s deck furniture. Whether someone jailed gets any sympathy from me depends on what they’ve done. As I said previously I’m not all that interested in why something is done than in what it actually was, and this isn’t all that age dependent. Victimless crimes shouldn’t attract jail, and probably shouldn’t even be crimes at all. This would free large numbers and prevent even more from becoming involved with ‘real’ crime. But the ones who grow up with a tendency towards violence, whatever the reason and however sad the background story, are worth locking up if only because the public gets a break from them while they’re inside.

              This is prison’s main value to me: incarcerated criminals don’t commit crimes out in the world. I’m all for rehabilitation if it can be done, even if it means making prisons a lot ‘cushier’ along Scandinavian lines, and I’m not particularly after retribution, though there needs to be a little of that as well as some consideration for deterrence. But if prison has one thing it can boast about it’s that those criminals who are repeat offenders do no offending among the general public while locked up. If you want to see that as harsh treatment of someone who’s been made into what he is then I can’t help that. But let me put it like this – I’ve killed a number of dangerous spiders lately, and knowing that it’s not a redback’s fault that it’s a redback doesn’t stop me killing it without any hesitation. It can’t help what it is, but the fact remains that what it is is quite dangerous. Sorry, Charlotte, but them’s the breaks. I don’t see jailing criminals, especially violent offenders, as being all that different. I don’t advocate capital punishment partly through not trusting the state with that power, partly because I can tell the difference between a human and a spider, and partly I’m reluctant to wholly write someone off as irredeemable whereas there’s really no hope that the spider will become a harmless spider. But the point here is that even if a violent criminal can’t help what he is and even if we can understand how he got that way it does not change what he is.

              Personally, I think the biggest mistake of all was naming them. The nation would have been much better off had that not happened and there would be no need of anonymity orders.

              Not wishing to join the vigilantes I’m pretty ambivalent about this, though in hindsight the judge might have come to regret that decision. However, I do think it’s a mistake to rule out naming offenders of that kind of age ever again, just as it would be a mistake to say screw it and name all of them as a matter of course. It goes against judging each case on its merits.

          • December 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm

            “I know how it works, thank you, randomly SHOUTED word lady.”

            I don’t think she’s shouting, AE, just fed up with having to add HTML code for ‘bold’ or ‘italic’. I’m guilty of this when I’m under time pressure too… ;)

        • December 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

          “…even to the point of people adding their own bits to the crime to make it bizzarely worse – such as batteries up the anus (false)…”

          There WERE batteries found at the scene, and there WAS evidence suggestive of sexual ‘interference’, though.

          “…as if they were getting off on torture porn.”

          They didn’t just kill him, did they? They admitted to many instances of mistreatment. They wwere getting SOMETHING out of it, to have continued with it…

          • Katherine
            December 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm

            Julia, I’ve seen the entire pathologist’s report. There were no sexual injuries to James Bulger. His foreskin was displaced but this could have happened simply by him being dragged from the bank down onto the tracks. It is a common bit of misreporting that the ‘sexual’ part wasn’t part of the trial because of sensitivity to James Bulger’s parents. In fact it wasn’t part of the trial because the evidence did not support any claims of sexual assault. The forensic pathologists couldn’t say for sure that there was no sexual motive – just that in his opinion, it was unlikely.

            It is true they removed his undergarments but in the other cases I have pointed to above, this also happened. (Mary Bell actually mutilated the genitals of one of her victims – that didn’t happen in James Bulger’s case). Certainly the pathologist’s opinion was that there was no actual sexual assault. Robert Thompson claimed he removed the trousers because he wanted to cover up James’ head (apparently he became completely freaked out by the amount of blood). Venables confirmed that Thompson did, indeed use the clothes to cover the head and the trousers/undergarments were found by the head, saturated with blood.

            The sexual connotations people placed on them were, in my opinion, projections. Using adult reasoning for a ten year old kid.

            Covering up a child’s head may not seem ‘useful’ to us – but it may seem perfectly ‘useful’ to a ten year old’s psychology (out of sight, out of mind… – if I can’t see his face, he doesn’t exist).

            The batteries by the way, were placed in James Bulger’s mouth. (Why, I have no idea – it seems an odd thing to do but then the whole thing from start to finish was utterly bizzare – hardly the perfect crime – taking the victim into shops and being seen by multiple adults – talking to many of them).

            • December 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

              That much I can agree with. The evidence for any sexual motive was pretty equivocal and the only substance from James Bulger found on the batteries was saliva. I’d speculate that they wanted to see if they could give him electric shocks with them, maybe having seen or heard of someone getting one from licking a PP3 battery., and that what they were getting out of it was simply finding out experimentally what it’s like to beat someone to death. Brutal, yes, but not pervy.

              • Katherine
                December 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm

                Yeah – or even some immature ‘experiment’ to see if he would ‘come alive’ again (Venables actually asked the police officer under questionning whether they were going to make ‘the baby come alive again’).

                I’ve always wondered why people seem to ‘want’ there to be a sexual element to the killing. A mixture of sick fantasy and desperation for an explanation and given the claims are coming from adults; they are giving an ‘adult’ explanation rather than actually putting themselves into a ten year old’s head. A ten year old who (we presume), hasn’t been through puberty yet.

              • December 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

                Don’t know if it’s that people want to believe it as such. Just that that rumour got started for whatever reason, quite likely something misread, misheard, misunderstood or misremembered, and, well, some shit sticks forever, doesn’t it?

  7. December 12, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Misplaced, and for some reason the delete button’s just gone AWOL.

    • December 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      This happens on longer threads!

  8. Alex
    December 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I agree with Katharine. As if on cue, scientists have now said that there is virtual irrevocable proof that the UK’s age of criminal responsibility is too low:

    link to guardian.co.uk

    Fact is Thompson and Venables should never have found themselves in the dock of a crown court – it was the most revolting spectacle from the dark ages. I think the justice system actually realised this and tried to make up for the injustice by putting their ‘punishment’ through the welfare system rather than the penal system.

    This is not to suggest that they should not have faced consequences, it is just that those consequences should not have been criminal ones.

    And I’ve always thought that this obsession people have with making these two suffer more (which is what putting them through the adult penal system would be) says a great deal more about them and their sick, sadistic, vengeful idea of retribution than it does about the justice system.

    • Katherine
      December 13, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      This crime was exceptional. It should not be brought up in any sort of debate around these issues – it has nothing to offer the debate. In terms of the criminal consequences of the crime, a sentence for deterrence is wholly pointless because of the extremely unusual nature of the crime. A sentence for public protection is probably warranted but not as much as people think (children who kill as children almost never kill as adults). A sentence for retribution arguably goes against the 1933 Children and Young People Act which makes clear that in cases of child offenders, the primary objective of the state is their welfare – not punishment.

      In short, the Bulger case has nothing useful to tell us at all apart from a good indicator of the base levels of sheer stupidity that some sections of our society will sink to in terms of vigilante, knuckle-dragging idiocy.

      • December 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

        “This crime was exceptional. It should not be brought up in any sort of debate around these issues – it has nothing to offer the debate.”

        Oooh, I don’t know about that, I think it’s quite interesting – and very educational – to see the sort of reaction it provokes from some quarters… :twisted:

    • December 14, 2011 at 2:32 am

      Alex, from the article you linked (my bold):

      The age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could be “unreasonably low” given the emerging understanding of how slowly the brains of children mature, according to a report by the Royal Society. Widespread differences between individuals also mean that the cut-off age at which children are deemed fit to stand trial, at 10 years old, might not be justifiable in all cases.

      Seems a stretch to describe this as virtual irrevocable proof, and having had a quick look at the paper itself there doesn’t appear to be any new evidence in it. Just new arguments for up to date scientific knowledge to inform legal decisions. Don’t have a problem with that – far from it – but again I don’t think it’s proof of anything in either the legal or scientific sense (and of course in the strict scientific sense there’s no such thing as proof anyway – just theories that haven’t been disproved yet).

      • Katherine
        December 14, 2011 at 6:13 am

        The report says nothing new. It has been known for a while that the part of the brain which controls impulse and empathy (the prefrontal cortex) is not fully developed until a person is in their 20s.

        It is still in its infancy at age 10. I don’t want to get too determinist about it but there is more or less biological proof that a ten year old’s brain functioning (in terms of empathy, self-control, consequential thinking) is still in its infancy.

        However, this does not mean there is NO functionning in that part of the brain until the 20s. Empathy starts to develop properly in the teens for example. But an age of criminal responsibility at 10 is, in my opinion, way too low – and there is clear biological evidence of that. For my part, I would start having some criminal consequences at 12 (but these would be welfare based) and start getting more punitive at 14.

        • December 14, 2011 at 8:16 am

          In general I’d accept a lot of that, though referring back to your point in an earlier comment that people are individuals and the danger of homogenous treatment under the law (not an entirely unreasonable aim given that equality before the law is supposed to be one of the foundations of it) I feel that this is all the more reason to treat each case on its merits and do away with the idea of an arbitrary age of criminal responsibility. To put it another way, I don’t dispute that a significant proportion of 10 year olds are not mature enough to be held responsible for a given offence, but plenty are. At that age my most of my peer group certainly had a good idea of right and wrong and understood that, as an example, jumping over a certain fence on the way to school and scrumping apples from the orchard there was wrong because it wasn’t our parents’ orchard and so not our apples. A few did it anyway but we should not go kidding ourselves – they knew it was wrong and understood why it was wrong. This would be gang of a 15-20 kids of both genders from working and middle class homes and attending the stereotypical bog standard mid 80s comp, so I think broadly representative of that age group. I’m not projecting my adult self backwards in time on to my ten year old self here – whether we should all go nicking apples and if so how much was the subject of periodic debate in my last year of junior school, but nobody suffered any illusions that it wasn’t stealing what belonged to someone else from their own property. Now if a bunch of average ten year olds understand about stealing, even if some went ahead and did it just to see if they could get away with it (there were wild blackberries all over the common for anyone to take, FFS!) they’d understand about taking life, which I suppose is why nobody who was for nicking apples was trying to dream up plans of killing the dog that belonged to the old boy who owned the orchard. By that age we understood that there are things you just don’t do and that’s one of them. And if we wouldn’t kill a dog… you see where I’m going, I’m sure.

          Now that’s not to say that all ten year olds are like that. As you pointed out people vary. Some people would understand that earlier, some later. Some much later. Some, perhaps suffering from one condition or another, will never get it at all. My feeling is that that being so no arbitrary age of culpability will ever be right. Say you could brain scan every single child regularly and were able to determine that the lowest age for which the capability for criminal responsibility any of those millions of individuals tested was, say, 6. I’m sure you’d agree that if you choose to use this age and say the 5s and under are incapable of culpability you’re going to catch a hell of a lot of kids between 6 and early teens who did something dumb without thinking because they’re still kids in that net. But the opposite applies if you shift it four years the other way from where it is now – you’ll save a handful who haven’t matured but miss a lot of young crims who are making the very most of being legally fireproof because of their age.

          This is a fundamental problem of all hard age limits, no matter what they’re for. Do we really believe that the maturity fairy visits us in our sleep on the eve of our 16th birthday to wave the sex wand at us (sorry, that sounds filthier than it’s supposed to :lol: ) and that it returns to wave the driving wand a year later and then the voting and drinking wands the year after that? And why does it wave the sex wand three years earlier in Spain and Argentina but three years later in Indonesia? Why does it wave the driving wand earlier in most parts of the US and Australia but later in Mexico and most of central America, and much of Europe? And why did it stop waving the smoking wand at 16 and start waving it at 18 instead? The answer is that of course there is no fairy, just a bunch of arbitrary ages that have more to do with sounding about right to the politicians than actually being right for the (mainly) adolescent individuals affected. Inevitably the result is that there are 14 and 15 year olds who are mature enough to make an informed decision about alcohol or popping their cherry but aren’t allowed to while at the same time there are 19 year olds rooting away while blind drunk who really haven’t matured enough to do either.

          Ideally we’d do away with the lot and consider each case individually, but that’s probably not practical and probably not even politically possible. But think about it: logically, the criteria for allowed to drive doesn’t need to be any more than the basic physical requirements, an understanding of road rules and a practical demonstration that the individual isn’t likely to crash, and we wrap all that up into an hour or so and call it a driving test. Is it age dependent? No, not really, and we see that from the Maureens on TV taking dozens and dozens of tests before finally passing and running over the family dog on the way home, while other countries begin issuing learner permits at an age where some kids are still going though puberty. Now remembering that a bunch of ten year olds in the early 80s understood right and wrong wrt theft, trespass and the unwarranted killing of an animal, and that some of them had understood those for a while while others might have only been trying to win the approval of the smart, pretty, popular girl by agreeing with what she said (and I’ll take the 5th if you ask me about that :mrgreen: ), why don’t we take a similar approach to criminal responsibility? I’m not saying we should completely trash the whole notion of of an age at which criminal responsibility is impossible, though in a perfect world we would, but the UK’s current approach is akin to believing that a maturity fairy turns up at a certain point with a culpability wand and we’re arguing about whether we should ask it to turn up at a different age. I feel the older system – the one which said that below 10 there cannot be culpability but between 10 and 14 there might be while still presuming innocence (in both senses) – was at least a better reflection of reality even though I’m convinced that the odd mature 9 year old will have taken advantage of the fact. Your 12-14 approach is similar but thinking back to my peer group and all those talks as we passed that fence twice a day I think its insufficient. I’d say more like 7 or 8 to 17 or 18, accepting that being able to prove sufficient maturity in a 7/8 year old will happen so incredibly infrequently that bringing charges at all will be as rare as hen’s teeth and convictions even more so, and also that some older kids in their mid or even late teens really are quite immature but that at this upper age range these will also be unusual and culpability will be the norm.

          Incidentally, that doli incapax ’til 14 system that the UK scrapped is still used throughout Australia, with 10 again being the age below which it’s presumed that culpability is not possible at all. However, from what I understand from those working in criminal law it would be highly unexpected for people at the lower end of that age band to be faced with the kind of court where people in wigs and gowns, one of them sat up on a raised platform, spoke over their heads in a language that even adult laymen aren’t fluent in, and more likely to be people wearing ordinary business suits sitting around a table asking the kids questions, at least in the initial hearings, and even if a full trial goes ahead it’s still suits instead of wigs and gowns and everyone sitting at the same level. I’d need to ask but I think the idea is that it’s still a criminal court but just in a different format. In some cases a similar thing is done for offences involving aborigines (see Koori Courts if you’re interested, and yes, there’s a Children’s Koori Court too).

          • Katherine
            December 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm

            On one level, the question is simple though. Is a ten year old child as culpable criminally as an adult. The answer is absolutely not (unless the adult has severe learning disabilities). And this applies to the crime (again I bring up mens rea) as well as the sentencing. I find it simply stupid that people would consider a ten year old to have the necessary prerequisite mental capacity for murder (that being intent to cause death or GBH with malice aforethought).

            In Sweden a child of ten has just strangled a four year old to death with a skipping rope. He will not be charged with a crime – he will be put through the social services system (still securely detained though). He won’t be charged with a crime because he hasn’t committed one – he can’t.

            link to telegraph.co.uk

            Sweden is far more progressive on sentencing than we are (the UK actually is highly punitive compared to other developed nations – with the exception of the US and Australia and even they are more progressive with youth justice I believe). Yet Sweden doesn’t suffer from the crude vigilantism that you think could spring from ‘soft justice’.

            There are no crowds waiting to hurl missiles and abuse at that ten year old boy. There are no vengeful parents eager to disperse a bit of their own ‘justice’. There are no politicians jumping on bandwagons of hatred and ignorance.

            And Sweden’s record on criminal recidivism vs the UK? Sweden – 35%; UK – 70%.

            Recidivism is even greater in the US by the way. However, since Texas has implemented reforms which you might think are ‘soft’ (reducing the prison population, focusing on rehabilitation and community penalties), the recidivism rate there has dropped – as has the overall crime rate.

            As they say in the US – Go Figure.

            • December 16, 2011 at 2:25 am

              On one level, the question is simple though. Is a ten year old child as culpable criminally as an adult. The answer is absolutely not…

              I feel that’s the wrong question and the wrong answer. It should be ‘Is this particular child as culpable as an adult for what s/he’s been accused of?’ And the answer is the obvious one: it depends on the child. Hard limits, whether for driving, smoking, sex, buying alcohol or almost anything you can think of, and certainly criminal responsibility, are inherently flawed. You cannot help but introduce a bias one way or the other. Even if you could somehow identify the precise age which is the median for being mature enough for whatever purpose you’re trying to put an age limit on – for neutrality let’s say it’s juggling – all you really achieve is to make it wrong for almost everyone. Very, very nearly half can begin learning to juggle before they’re ready and very, very nearly half are made to wait longer than they need to, while a microscopic proportion happen to develop as individuals at just the right time. The ideal would be to accept that in a population there are both morons and Mozarts and a hell of a lot in between, and treat all those individuals as individuals. Practically that’s not going to happen so the next best thing is to stop drawing age lines and start thinking in terms of a spectrum. Instead of asking how old is this child, ask where this X year old falls on the spectrum.

              I find it simply stupid that people would consider a ten year old to have the necessary prerequisite mental capacity for murder…

              I think it’s naive (and possibly a little patronising – give kids a little more credit) to rule it out. Undeniably many ten year olds will not. But, and it’s a huge one, not all.

              He won’t be charged with a crime because he hasn’t committed one – he can’t.

              Legally he can’t. The actuality is unknown because the law being what it is the Swedish courts aren’t going look at it. Knowing no more than the age of the offender I’d say there’s a good chance that happens to be just, but it’s by no means a racing certainty. I’m not advocating automatic prosecution of ten year olds (± a few years) here, far from it. I just want the system to reflect the reality that some of those we adults want to believe are as innocent and unworldly are really more mature than we give them credit for. Some are in fact razor sharp, if not downright prodigious. And of that proportion some commit crimes, and some of those commit nasty crimes. A legal system that is able to at least attempt to sort one from the other seems to me to be better than one that persists in the fantasy that below a certain age – and it doesn’t matter what age they choose – there simply can be no culpability at all.

              I’m aware of the differences between Sweden and the UK, the different prison culture that many Brits would regard as unacceptably soft despite the lower recidivism rates (though since a third still reoffend it would seem that it’s an incomplete answer, assuming that it does export to other cultures well) and that they tend not to go all Middlesex Burning. Personally I don’t care what goes on in prison if it works and would let them have feather beds and order hookers and cocaine if it prevented reoffending (as long as they were buying). But then I think hookers and cocaine should be legal anyway, which would empty the prisons of anyone inside for using coke or being on the game as well as make Paul Dacre’s head explode – worth doing just for that, I reckon. :mrgreen: Anyhah, vigilantism isn’t unknown there and even though it’s lower I don’t know that’s tied into sentencing and lower reoffending rates or just a cultural thing or what. As I keep saying, perception is key and if the Swede’s don’t perceive it as soft they’re not going to buck. Brits will perceive it as soft (rightly or wrongly) but they’re not going form mobs and head for the Newcastle ferry, are they? The difference – and of course I’m generalising here – is that the Swedes are happy with their penal system and the Brits aren’t, and I think that predisposes one of those two nations toward pitchforks and flaming torches.

              Recidivism is even greater in the US by the way.

              Yes, I know. I’ve got all kinds of stats for the US on crime and prisons. Most of it’s depressing, some of it was quite surprising when you first hear it, and now and then it’s so crazy it’s almost laughable. Like the guy on Death Row in New Hampshire, a state which does not actually have a facility for executions anymore and is going to have to build one especially for him when they eventually get round to offing the guy. Cuckoo!

              However, since Texas has implemented reforms which you might think are ‘soft’…

              Like I said before, I don’t care what goes on in there. It’s a bit consequentialist perhaps, but if the system (a) prevents offending over the course of the sentence and (b) strongly reduces or prevents offending after the sentence, then as far as I’m concerned that’s just fine. If I thought brutal worked I’d favour brutal, though drawing the line well short of floggings and execution. But since it’s clear that a lot of the time brutal doesn’t work while ‘soft’ does then ‘soft’ is fine by me too. I’m less fussed about soft or brutal than I am with effective and appropriate, and depending on offence and offender appropriate can be literally anything from sitting someone down for a bit of a chat to throwing the key away.

              • Katherine
                December 16, 2011 at 6:47 am

                Re your point about kids being ‘innocent’. Actually believe it or not, this is a relatively new concept – coming from Rousseau who described childhood as the ‘sleep or reason’. It is a product of Romanticism and their idealised view of childhood which we have retained.

                Before that, there was a feeling that children were actually born with evil inclinations and in need of constant correction.

                Both are untrue of course. You only have to watch how violent a toddler can be to understand that ‘ complete innocence’ is a load of tosh while the ‘evil’ child is clearly lazy, medieval rubbish.

  9. Katherine
    December 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    And going back to the original story (the ‘rape’ baby). There is still absolutely nothing to suggest that a crime actually happened.

    • December 17, 2011 at 1:46 am

      I don’t know that we can say there’s nothing to suggest a crime happened. The plod clearly thought there was enough to suggest it to make initial arrests and begin an investigation, but it’s quite true there’s nothing yet known, at least not to the public, that’s actually conclusive. In fact it’s gone a bit quiet, hasn’t it? Good. Hopefully the police can concentrate on the investigation and getting all the facts, whatever they turn out to be.

      • Katherine
        December 17, 2011 at 7:31 am

        In cases of suspected child abuse, the police do not need much to arrest someone. They only need the slightest suspicion. The normal rules of arrest (good reason to believe a crime has occurred) do not apply. The fact that the two people were almost immediately bailed says more than the fact that they were arrested in my opinion.

  10. December 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Katherine IS England’s Children’s Commissioner and I claim my £10…

    :roll:

    • Katherine
      December 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      How dare you! Have you seen her face? Moisturiser is not unknown to me (and I am not that old!) ;-)

      However, having said that, I agree with practically everything she says.

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