No good deed goes unpunished

June 14, 2012 10 Comments
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“If the boy responsible doesn’t own up then the whole class, and I do mean the whole class, will stay behind after school.”

I have no idea if teachers can still do this but if not I’m guessing that those of us past out mid 30s can probably remember hearing it at least once, and unless we happened to be the boy – or for the sake of equality, the girl – responsible we probably thought that it was bloody unfair. We mightn’t have even seen the boy/girl/hermaphrodite/person of indeterminate gender responsible for doing whatever it was doing it whenever they did and be as much in the dark about it as the teacher, so why this great love of collective punishment? As an adult I’ve come to suspect that it’s because trying to shame a confession out of someone, or failing that to get others to point the finger, is just a hell of a lot easier than the alternative and that often there won’t even be an alternative. Does that justify collective punishment in classrooms? I’m not sure but I’ll leave that as a question for parents with school age children to ponder, assuming, as I said before, that it’s even allowed these days.

But I am sure that when it’s a situation between adults and the state collective punishment is highly undesirable.

“If the person responsible doesn’t own up then the whole neighbourhood, and I do mean the entire postcode, will be put under house arrest.”

We’d go crazy if they said that, wouldn’t we? Well, I hope we would but seeing as how if you changed ‘house arrest’ to ‘fingerprinted and DNA swabbed’ a lot of people would nod approvingly perhaps not. Certainly there’s not enough objection to collective punishment in this part of the world when it comes to motoring offences and car confiscation, which as I’ve mentioned here before frequently punish the innocent owner of a vehicle as well as the person who committed an offence while driving it. Whether it’s because more vehicles get loaned to untrustworthy dickheads in the Perth area or whether it’s because the WA media have just picked up on this earlier I don’t know, but most of the examples of excessive punishment of innocents, i.e. confiscating the car for a period of weeks, seem to be in West Oz, while here in the eastern states it usually seems to be a couple of days. But just in case anyone in this bottom right hand corner of the country thinks that’s the worst that can happen we’ve just had a good reminder from Victoria Police that they can impound a car for something the owner didn’t do for just as long as their west coast colleagues can.

And yes, they bloody well are prepared to do it.

A man caught speeding through streets in Melbourne’s busy inner east this morning told police he was running late for an exam.

Police said the 21-year-old man was speeding along Swan Street in Richmond, ran a red light at Lennox Street and went through a pedestrian crossing before attempting to avoid police near Docker Street around 9.30am.

The Altona Meadows man was picked up travelling more than 100km/h in a 40 zone.

[...]

His friend’s car will be impounded for 30 days and he will also need to pay $689 towing and storage costs.

I don’t want to give the impression that I excuse this kind of driving because I don’t. Many people in Melbourne will know Swan Street and anyone else can tell with a quick look at Google Maps that it’s not really a 100+ km/h (62+ mph in old money) road – it’s a tram route, there are often parked cars narrowing the road to just one lane each way (shared with the trams) and there are lots of shops, often with delivery vehicles coming and going (the Street View image shows this pretty clearly). Personally I’m not sure 40 km/h isn’t a tad on the low side and doubt it’s significantly safer than the old 50 limit it used to have, but it’s not somewhere I’d feel safe doing 100 even if it was the middle of the night and the road was empty. If he really was going that fast, and since the driver in one of the WA cases was eventually acquitted I’m going to stress ‘if’, then he’s a complete dickhead that I can’t raise much sympathy for. No, nobody got hurt and as far as the speeding bit goes it is, as is the norm with speeding, a victimless crime. It’s the driving like a tool part that puts people at risk and which, rather than speeding, The Age says he’s being charged with:

The man is expected to be charged on summons for driving in a manner dangerous, speed dangerous and evade police.

Ignoring the fact that the subbies must napping on job when let that sentence though, if what’s been reported is accurate I have no sympathy with the guy at all, and if I was on the jury and felt the evidence supported it I’d say guilty of driving like a dickhead, and possibly speed dangerous and evade police to boot. But I can sympathise with his mate who has lost the use of his car for a month no matter what happens now. Even if the driver pays the storage costs and then goes to court and proves that he wasn’t speeding it doesn’t help because the case won’t be heard until months after the owner gets his car back, so the result of the court case will be moot. Win, lose or mistrial the owner of the car, who, since lending your property to a tool isn’t a crime, will not himself be in court having not been charged with anything, gets punished anyway. And I have no idea if a successfully defended case would mean that the police are required to compensate the whoever ended up paying that $689 storage charge. I’d bloody hope so but I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that they weren’t.

Some people would say that’s too bad and just the risk you run when you lend your car to an idiot, but how is an individual supposed to know the person borrowing it is going to do something idiotic? People are neither mind readers nor fortune tellers. You might balk at giving your keys to a young or inexperienced driver or someone with a heap of points, but at the end of the day if you were to lend your car to me, a driver of twenty years with a clean licence, you’d still be trusting me to behave with it. If I betray that trust you’ve already been wronged, so why does the law feel the need to punish you even more by depriving you of your property that had been used in a way you weren’t aware of and did not consent to? Do a mate a favour and if he abuses your faith in him then law comes round and stamps on your face. Hardly justice, is it?

This is a terrible kind of collective punishment, far worse than knowingly punishing innocents because establishing the identity of the guilty is too difficult or impossible because the identity of the alleged offender is known from the outset and because even for them the presumption of innocence is reversed – supposedly unthinkable where the English legal system has been a significant influence, but all too common when it comes to traffic offences which are typically victimless crimes. And worst of all it’s a wrong that Victoria’s Liberal In Name Only government appears not to have the slightest interest in putting right.

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10 Responses to No good deed goes unpunished

  1. Tatty
    June 14, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Yes, children are still collectively punished these days…at least at secondary school level… that I know of. My daughter had to stay behind after school with three of her friends when none would own up to disrupting class when the teachers back was turned. It taught her a lesson in that “you are known by the company you keep.”

    As for the whole car scenario and “…how is an individual supposed to know the person borrowing it is going to do something idiotic? “…by knowing the friend well enough to have lent them their car in the first place ? Unfortunately for them another hard lesson is to be careful who they let play with their toys. I don’t think it’s directly comparable to school scenarios since “grown-ups” should know better and partly as a result of discipline previously received in school.

    Lending someone your car is not a crime but where the car is impounded as a direct result of breaking the law then that is the fault of the friend not the authorities. If the friend was any kind of friend at all they’d pay all costs to return it ASAP to it’s owner. In which case, this kind of story would never see the light of day in a newspaper.

    I guess the moral of both scenarios is: You know what the rules are…your actions will affect others… so don’t get your friends into trouble. They won’t like it very much. :|

    • June 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      …by knowing the friend well enough to have lent them their car in the first place ?

      And often that’s sufficient to ensure that no offence takes place, or at least not one that will result in confiscation. However, that’s not always so – in the past I’ve blogged the case of a Perth mother whose V8 ute (they seem to have a different idea of mum’s taxi over there) was confiscated for a month after her son was driving it at high speed despite the fact he took the car without her knowledge, and another case where a Lamborghini owner lost his car for a month after the mechanic who was testing it after a service was accused of ‘hooning’. In that second case the mechanic defended the charge in court and was acquitted, but of course it was too late to un-confiscate the owner’s Lambo as the case was heard months after the confiscation period was up and it had been released back to him. Then there have been at least three incidents I’m aware of where dealership loaner/demonstrator cars have been confiscated despite obedience to state traffic laws generally being an implied if not explicit condition of borrowing the vehicle, Lewis Hamilton being the case that probably made news back in the UK.

      In all these cases the legal owners of those vehicles either took all reasonable measures to ensure that the cars would not be used illegally or had no idea that the car was being used at all, but no allowance is made for this by the law. And potentially it can go much further. I don’t know if it’s happened yet but as far as I can tell hire cars are similarly liable to be confiscated, and again what can Avis, Hertz and the rest do to ensure their cars aren’t driven in such a way that they’ll be impounded that they don’t do already? How many visitors to Australia rent a vehicle? I have no idea but we get about a million visitors a year and it’s a terrific place for a driving holiday, but even if it’s as low as a tenth of that a hundred thousand vehicle hires p.a. between half a dozen or so cities is still a fair number. Too many to do any more than the usual things hire companies do such as licence checks, age restrictions, and deposits and voluntary waivers of various dollar amounts, and something in the Ts & Cs about not caning the thing. They can hardly put a member of staff in every vehicle to back seat drive everywhere. If you’ve booked a fly drive here and the previous hirer got it confiscated on his way back to the airport then company can take it out of his deposit, but that doesn’t help you if they haven’t got another car to put you in. And once again the law does not care about this in the slightest.

      It is summary justice, pure and simple, and it is extremely indiscriminate summary justice at that.

      If the friend was any kind of friend at all they’d pay all costs to return it ASAP to it’s owner.

      It’d be nice if it was possible for a decent sort to put his hands up, take responsibility and go down to the cop shop with a big enough cheque to get his mate’s car released, but unfortunately this is something else the law makes no allowance for. If it’s impounded for a month then it’s impounded for a month, and that’s that. Who pays the storage cost is irrelevant – as far as I know the bill is sent to the legal owner and it’s up to them to get the money out of whoever was driving when it was confiscated, but that doesn’t get the car released a second earlier. Nor does it address the issue of the reversal of the burden of proof and what happens if, as happened in Perth with the Lambo, the driver defends the charge in court and is then acquitted.

      • Tatty
        June 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

        TBH I don’t really see the car scenario as “Collective Punishment”…not literally anyway…it’s not as if every car owner in the country had to forfeit their vehicle for the sake of just one driver.

        It is summary justice, pure and simple, and it is extremely indiscriminate summary justice at that.

        It makes a change then these days to have one law that still applies to all. I get your point but I still don’t think it’s anyone’s fault that someone’s car gets impounded but the person who drove it, broke the law and caused that to happen in the first place.

        Call me a miser but…IF I did drive, and I don’t…having shelled out a fair few bob on a car with all it’s associated high costs then no one but me would be driving it anyway. Except, perhaps, in a dire life-threatening emergency. My dad is the same about his precious car and I appreciate why.

        The flipside of that you suggest…the driver and not the car being part of the penalty…was discussed recently round the dining table. My sister was hypothesising about trying to avoid a speeding penalty she’d been given by claiming someone else was driving and she wasn’t even in the car at the time. Appalling.

        Bottom line…want a car ? Buy yer own and behave yourself in it ! :)

  2. Mudplugger
    June 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Another form of collective punishment is currently being developed for the e-world.

    What we have appreciated as being a free medium, open to all and to all types, is heading inexorably for many forms of censorship and control. This is being carried out under the initial guise of
    ‘protecting the children’ but, in practice, it is the worried State’s fight-back against the free expression of opinion.

    True, there are some disreputable characters and activities carried out on the Web, but is that justification enough for the collective punishment of the vast majority ? By comparison, the local motoring offence issue and kids kept back at school are trivial in their impact.

    • June 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      You’re absolutely right, and I’d have included something about it in the post if I’d been aware of it before I posted. Every email, tweet, blog post etc etc. Millions looked at to catch a handful, most of whom will be the ones too daft to adapt and avoid the attention, so swinging a sledgehammer to miss a nut. However, that’s a mainly UK thing – we have the planned Great Firewall of Australia here but they can’t make it work and have gone very quiet about it lately – and it was a pretty Australia-centric piece about summary justice and punishing people who are not simply not suspected of anything but are actually known to have done nothing illegal (the bit about the kids being kept back at school was really just drawing a parallel).

      • Mudplugger
        June 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

        Don’t be mis-led by the current public proposal – it’s just window-dressing and tidying up a loose-end.

        The UK and US security services have been monitoring e-traffic (and voice calls) for as long as it has existed (via GCHQ and Menwith Hill), but it has been inadmissible in court, simply because to use it as evidence would be to admit to having the data in the first place (and it was obtained covertly, so they daren’t admit to having it).

        The proposed ‘public’ legislation is simply to tidy up that aspect, so that some of that ‘acquired e-data’ can finally be acknowledged and used as evidence. (They claim they only obtain ‘header data’, from whom, to whom, when, etc. Of course we believe that, don’t we, children ?)

        The other forms of progressive censorship continue to creep ahead.

        (Interestingly, because I have used the key terms ‘GCHQ’ and ‘Menwith Hill’ in this comment, this blog-thread will now trigger an auto-alert in those channels – sorry guys. But when they read it, at least they’ll know they’ve been rumbled again.)

  3. elaine
    June 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Many work places offer collective punishment too – even if they know who broke the rules!

  4. June 14, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Does that justify collective punishment in classrooms?

    Never.

    It happened to me once and I refused to attend the detention = preferring to face the punishment for that rather than enable the collective punishment. Not only did I get away with it, but my stand stopped all further attempts to punish the whole class. Result!

    I was one of the awkward squad even as a teenager.

  5. john in cheshire
    June 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Collective punishment of politicians, the bbc, the liberal judiciary, human rights lawyers, social workers and the guardian would seem to be fair, wouldn’t it?

  6. June 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

    But I am sure that when it’s a situation between adults and the state collective punishment is highly undesirable.

    “If the person responsible doesn’t own up then the whole neighbourhood, and I do mean the entire postcode, will be put under house arrest.”

    This mindset is the same as the one Athletics Australia has and every petty official who thinks he/she has power over us. Sign me up for the firing squad [member :) ]. I’d have no compunction.

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