Monday, 7 June 2010

What Law? Whose Order?

By: George Coombs

The present government is toying with yet another criminal justice bill, it is perhaps sobering to recall that they came to power with a promise to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime" yet, when have they ever clearly identified what they consider the causes of crime to actually be? The plain fact is that the so called justice system is a cruel and deceitful oppressor of working class people and is itself a substantial contributor to that which is labelled crime. Irrational sentence disparity is widespread, suicide while in custody is a national disgrace and one can be left with no surprise that Henry Fielding once described the money he made as a magistrate as "the dirtiest money on earth."

I am personally aware of cases of older people and known suicide risks being sent to prison , also of people sentenced to periods of custody who, through no fault of their own are unable to pay for television licences, unable to pay fines etc. Oppression of the poor and deprived is so blatant and yet, the Magistrates Association state that one of the requirements for consideration in becoming a magistrate is "social awareness."

One can pause and consider here the case of Sheila Kent cited by Ann Worrall on page 17 of her book Offending Women, this lady was sent to prison for four months for failing to honour a £10 a month fine for a motoring offence as well as not having a television licence with no notice being taken of a delay in receiving her benefits. The same Magistrate, a day after this woman was sentenced gave a Mr Michael Hardstaff a twenty eight day suspended sentence for an almost identical offence. This is just one case among many one could cite where injustice has occurred and it surely calls into question a claim later made by the Magistrate concerned that "I like to think we use our common sense" (Ann Worall Offending Women Routledge 1988) One historical figure, among others that we could consider given the above outline is the Greek philosopher Anarcharsis. Diogenes Laertius mentions this man as does Herodotus and Cicero, some sources number him among the Seven Sages of Athens and it is even said of him that he was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Great Goddess, a privilege usually denied to those who did not speak fluent Greek.

Anarcharsis was in fact a Scythian who arrived in Athens at about 589 B.C.E. In one of his books he compared the Greek and Scythian laws of his day to spiders webs that catch small flies and allow wasps to escape the hornets nest. Does this not sound a disconcerting ring of truth in our own times?

I am personally aware of a Public House in Hove that is a known haunt of local police said to be off duty. I am reliably informed that on one occasion a group of them were sitting together laughing while passing a piece of paper around. Closing time came. Not unusually bar staff found police were difficult about leaving and when they eventually quit the premises they left the piece of paper behind. It turned out to be a witness statement related to a case of indecent exposure. This then exemplifies the abuse of trust and confidentiality local police proved themselves capable of in order to satiate their need for crude self-gratification.

These then are the upholders of justice certain of whose colleagues came to my former residence one night looking for me. I was out, they would not accept the word of my landlord/friend concerning this and forced their way into the house upsetting the family I was living with who had two small children. Eventually I was found and arrested on false unverified charges and, taking full advantage of my physical and emotional ill health I was bullied into a sham confession obtained under obvious serious duress which a magistrate's court (another requirement of magistrates, according to their association, is to be of good character) accepted without question.
The verbal aggression to which I was subjected prompted intervention from the duty solicitor, fluid and sleep deprivation were also practiced and on one occasion while I was being searched a police officer drove the side of his hand straight into my testicles. While I was on police bail I took an overdose and this directly after being in police custody and, during this period I was also falsely re- arrested on a charge of breaching police bail, police, like the bullying cowards so many of them are were all to ready to take the word of known liars in order to persecute the vulnerable in order to enhance performance figures and impress senior personnel.
All complaints were ignored. I couldn't cope with the bullying and stress. A notable component of any idea of justice as fairness has to be impartiality. This was absent in my case and has been in others I'm aware of. Commenting further on Athens Anarcharsis argues "Those with no skill judge" and how true this is of courts where twisted notions of punishment against the poor, the deprived and the vulnerable are the real crimes. In Plato's Republic we find the notion of Justice as being the social virtue that hold society together but the society fostered by the present system is hardly just and increasingly lacks feeling of authentic community which will inevitably lead to desperation, inequality and despair.
Prison overcrowding is a disgrace. Suicide and self harm in custody are also a disgrace and knowing my past history (albeit some years ago and for unrelated reasons) I know from my own experiences and observations that one is not counted as a risk if the attempt was some time ago I of course had the attempt linked to police custody as well.

Prison does not work in any sense of the term. Anyone deprived of their liberty is an automatic suicide risk and overcrowding and lack of one's own space enhance this. Thinking in this area by judicial authorities becomes more and more shallow as time goes on.

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