Monday, October 25, 2004

Does David Blunkett think we're all stupid?

...he's probably right. The latest news is that juries are to be allowed access to a defendant's criminal record in cases involving child sex abuse and theft. Seems to me to beg the question: why are those two crimes being linked, and others ignored?

Now as this article explains, the government would love to get a higher conviction rate in courts. They could achieve this by spending more money hiring and training police and giving them the equipment to conduct better forensic research. But why spend money when there's a short cut?

Child sex abuse has been a big cause of public outcry recently. So it seems likely that the tabloid headlines are going to be all in favour of this move, and full of photographs of Roy Whiting - who already had child sexual abuse convictions on his record when he was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne. Note firstly that Roy Whiting was convicted without the need for this law change. Secondly can you imagine someone who the jury knew had a criminal record for child sex abuse being found innocent of anything? The law will effectively condemn those with any record to being emprisonned at the whim of those who know about their past. If the courts believe however that it will boost their ability to catch people who abuse children then it may be worth doing. Courts, it appears, believe this because they see child abuse as stemming from a pathological desire to abuse and hurt children.

And theft? Now just a minute, I do not lie awake at night worrying about shop-lifters. Surely theft is not the sort of crime which we need to step in and "get tough" on. Theft in itself doesn't hurt anybody, it might do when its combined with assault, but previous convictions for assault will not be revealed. This means that juries will know if there is a conviction for theft, but not whether or not that theft was violent. Well my best guess is that juries are going to assume the worst and this is going to knock up conviction rates massively and end up with stacks of innocent people in jail. Just a hunch. Then the government will be bragging about how they catch more criminals than previous governments.

And we still don't have disclosure of previous criminal records for rape. Even though we've been asking the longest. Ask any victim of rape whether they'd rather have been a victim of theft and they'll tell you yes. Is there any evidence to suggest rapists have a pathological desire to abuse and hurt women? Err, yes, loads.

Of course bringing the previous conviction diclosure in for rape is not without its risks. While it seems likely that the number of false claims brought is extremely low, there is always someone out there hoping to abuse the system and victimise someone with a date-rape conviction on their record.

Well its here that I depart from traditional feminist thinking and suggest something shocking: maybe we should have three degrees of rape - like we do for murder. So that date rape is no longer the same crime as the Ealing Vicarage cases of the 1980s. Then we can insist on disclosure, as well as much longer sentences, for the worst cases, and still convict and sentence those whose crimes are less premeditated.

But what I see here from Mr Blunkett is an attempt to hide behind the paedophile issue to sneak in legislation which will artificially inflate the conviction rate without actually improving the overall justive rate. And legislation which sounds like it might but actually won't make life any better for the one group of people who could really benefit from this type of move.

1 comment:

Serf said...

First they screwed up the justice system so that suspects had more rights than heads of state and now they can not get convictions.

So what do they do? Remove rights which are essential to any form of justice. No one who has a previous conviction will ever be found not guilty again.

Big Bad Blunkett does it again.