Monday, 29 March 2010

Prison Break

Would it massively increase the prison population if each offence carried a minimum sentence of one third of its maximum sentence, or of 15 years' imprisonment where that maximum sentence is life imprisonment, and if there were a single category of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on?

Not if those measures were accompanied by the abandonment of the existing erosions of trial by jury and of the right to silence, of the existing reversals of the burden of proof, of the provision for conviction by majority verdict (which, by definition, provides for conviction even where there is reasonable doubt), of the admission of anonymous evidence other than from undercover Police Officers, of the provision for conviction on anonymous evidence alone, of both pre-trial convictions and pre-trial acquittals by the Crown Prosecution Service, of the secrecy of the family courts (although that is improving), of the anonymity of adult accusers in rape cases, of the scheme for identity cards, of control orders, of the provision for Police confiscation of assets without a conviction, of stipendiary magistrates, of Thatcher's Police and Criminal Evidence Act, of the Civil Contingencies Act, of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, and of the Official Secrets Acts.

As well as by the raising of the minimum age for jurors to be raised at least to 21. By a return to preventative policing based on foot patrols, with budgetary sanctions against recalcitrant Chief Constables who failed to implement this. By Police Forces at least no larger than at present, and subject to local democratic accountability, most obviously though Police Authorities, but if appropriate by means of elected sheriffs. By the restoration of the pre-1968 committal powers of the magistracy, and of the pre-1985 prosecution powers of the Police. And by a return to the situation whereby a Bill which ran out of parliamentary time was lost at the end of that session.

Furthermore, it is very high time to get over the Human Rights Act, an incorporation into our domestic law of a Convention which rules out both trial by jury and magistrates' courts. We don't need it. We have our own tradition of open justice. We should stick to that. And we should get back to it. Not least, by requiring a resolution of the House of Commons (itself elected so as better to represent the breadth and depth of public opinion, and accordingly from candidates selected by means better involving the general electorate) before any ruling of the European Court of Justice, or of the European Court of Human Rights, or of the "Supreme Court", or pursuant to the Human Rights Act, can have any effect in the United Kingdom.

Just for a start.

Light sentences and lax prison discipline are both expressions of the perfectly well-founded view that large numbers of those convicted, vastly in excess of the numbers that have always existed at any given time, are in fact innocent. We need to return to a free country's minimum requirements for conviction, above all by reversing the erosion of the right to silence and of trial by jury, and by repealing the monstrous provisions for anonymous evidence and for conviction by majority verdict. And we need to return to proper policing. Then we could return to proper sentencing, and to proper regimes in prison.

If you want there to be even one MP who understands all of this, then please avail yourself of the PayPal button on this blog.

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