IPPs demean judges,
& are meant to
John Reid was bad, but David Blunkett was from a different planet. It took Stalin decades to perfect the Mock Trial in which political whimsy demolishes the law – but our ramshackle Westminster Government achieved it in a single parliamentary term. We employ judges to curb nasty acts. They do this for us by crushing civil liberties. Everyone knows it doesn’t work, but few expected the IPP to make this quite so painfully obvious. [An IPP is “Imprisonment for Public Protection” without end].
Since 1066 it had been assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that if you are nastier to those nasty to you, then by some unthought-through alchemy, this obliterates their nastiness. I suspect William the Conqueror’s bastardy had something to do with it, but either way the IPP puts the tin lid on it.
Before we allow judges to disoblige our citizens, we ask them to make sure they’ve got the right man or woman or child. They do this by establishing as best as they can, what exactly did happen. They are therefore carefully trained to re-examine the past – there is simply no legal requirement for them to consider the future, at least not formally. The IPP orders them to ignore it entirely.
In the pre-Blair era, a judge could moderate the damage his or her sentence was intended to inflict, by putting the offending act into a wider time perspective – perhaps it was a one-off, perhaps there were mitigating circumstances. It might have looked bad, and have sounded worse – but if malign intent was weak or absent, then a dollop of what we generally call mercy could be applied. The IPP rules this out of court absolutely.
Blunkett’s puerile notion is that you improve society by excommunicating disruptive influences – the longer the better – it’s what Stalin used Siberia for. Blunkett bamboozled our Sovereign British Parliament into overriding centuries of civil liberties by convincing it that any violent act could only ever lead to an indefinite future of violence – a view no self-respecting kindergarten would tolerate for an instant.
If the judge concludes that there is a risk of violence (and how could he or she not do so, given the evidence on which s/he has just convicted) then that judge must impose a life sentence. Not a term sentence, not a few years, with the prospect of redemption, but life. No ifs, no buts, just life. It cuts our judges off at the knees. It’s equivalent to parliament mandating every psychiatrist to administer alcohol whenever they detect the first whiff of psychosis, not for short term relief, but forever – something Dr Joanna MonCrieff already takes exception to.
David Blunkett explicitly intended to discomfort “non-elected” judges. But his missionary zeal for the irredeemability of criminality is so far removed from reality, its costs elsewhere are huge. First of all, the IPP virtually doubles the number of our lifers, already far exceeding European averages. Next because ‘risk’, not culpability, now determines incarceration, the Parole Board has to employ 20 times more judges than before. Worse, since Parole Board judges use the same reasoning as at the trial – violent then, violent forever – IPP lifers are being released at 6%, a third the rate other lifers are – how could it be otherwise? What a travesty of human nature. [Figures from the recent Leeds Quakers in Criminal Justice conference]
Where’s the end? Perhaps, as in California, dwindling cash will bring our legislators to their senses, and insist better ways be found to inculcate civilised behaviour other than crushing civil liberties. The 98 judges the Parole Board now pays to provide amateur risk assessments are costly, but less so than the (approximately) 13,000 lifers we currently render unemployable. One young man I know is fit and healthy, so should live at least another 50 years. However, following a moderate pub brawl, his IPP is currently set to cost us all over £10,000,000. Demeaning judges for political purposes is one thing, but bankrupting our communal response to anti-social behaviour on ideological, quasi-Stalinist reasoning is worse. Could this legal lunacy prompt a mature, more civilised response to curbing the uncivilised? I hope so. Wednesday, 25 May 2011- 13:24