We shouldn`t be surprised; along with a new Secretary of State for Justice right on schedule come new initiatives on crime. It is so utterly boring as it is par for the course. Knife crime, detention without trial, community payback etc. etc. have all been in the gun sight of previous Home or Justice Secretaries. The latest announcement is just another piece of waffle.
All community sentences are now to have a “punishment” element……”such as a fine, unpaid work, curfew or exclusion from certain areas. The new measures will mean more offenders could be forced to undertake activities such as cleaning up graffiti, clearing litter and helping to rejuvenate their communities”. In my ignorance I had thought that Community Payback AKA an unpaid work requirement was currently considered rightly or wrongly as a punishment. These activities already include as I understand it cleaning up graffiti, clearing litter and other so called useful endeavours for the neighbourhood. So my question is what is being added? The probation service with arguably a 10% reduction in its workforce is now forced to work in tandem with those saviours of society; profit driven plc service providers such as Capita (T.V. Licensing and Applied Language Services to those who might be unaware) SERCO, G4S etc. By conviction I`m a free marketer capitalist but the application of perverted capitalism from Public Finance Initiative, the brainchild of Gordon Brown, to the current nonsense will surely be seen in the future for what it is………a mirage. Other “initiatives” include offenders informing the courts of their assets. In the magistrates` courts income information on the current means form is rarely questioned apart from when businesses or company directors are involved or the rate of pay seems absurdly low. To obtain details eg of cars owned would be time consuming and futile. When would a court obtain up to date details eg of a hire purchase agreement or property equity values? Those Justice Ministry civil servants who buggered up the contract given to Capita plc have also advised the Minister that courts should obtain information from the Department of Work and Pensions and Her Majesty`s Revenue and Customs so that fines can be set at a level that will “bite on offenders”. Are those people living in the same dimension as we are? Do they not realise that mail at HMRC can lie for weeks unopened? So all those offenders will be bailed to appear at an unknown date when all that information is available to the court. Of course now that compensation over the previous limit of £5,000 is available to magistrates all will be hunky dory. The figure of £5,000 in all my years on the bench has never been requested or given in my court. Perhaps a Freedom of Information request to the M.o.J. on levels of compensation ordered will show this “initiative” for what it really is………a chimera with absolutely no substance beyond its mention in the press release.
All J.P.s have been strongly advised to attend training sessions before the new year on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. I suppose that makes it all alright. As per my oath of office I will observe any new requirements I am required to enact until that final straw is laid upon my back