Friday, August 8, 2008

Time to reform the British justice system?

With no written constitution and laws dating back to the Middle Ages or earlier, it is no surprise that at times the British courts hand out some strange punishments. The rule of law in Britain has always been based on the protection of property. After all the rules were made by landed aristocracy who wanted their property, belongings and serfs protected.

In these more modern times I suspect that most UK citizens would rather base the punishment of criminals on the harm they do to others rather than the amount of money involved. I remember the 30 year sentences given to the Great Train Robbers when I was a child. I think many thought they were too hard and although the judge tried to justify them with the hurt caused to the train driver, there was a suspicion that this was a little overdone by both the judge and the railway man. The judge did of course talk about the amount of money taken.

So on Wednesday when I read that 5 burglars from a family of travellers were jailed, BBC story here, for up to 11 years each over a series of burglaries with no violence involved, I suspected it must be to do with the amount again. And so it proved, but not only the amount was the cause. There was also who had been the victims.

These thieves specialized in large country houses. We had amongst others property tycoon Harry Hyams, Formula One advertising tycoon Paddy McNally and Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire Sir Philip Wroughton.

Judge Critchlow said "Cases of this gravity must attract heavy sentences because of the deliberate criminality, organisation and sophistication of their planning and the effect on the occupants."

It does ask the question, "Should rich people get more protection from the law as they have more money"? For causing harm to others who does the most, these guys or someone turning over some little old lady's house. Let us get down to the dirty bit of the justice system. Should the pedophile or the rapist get a lower sentence than the 11 years these men got?

Interesting thoughts and a politician could ride a populist train by bringing the subject up, although it wouldn't go down with some of the 'conservative club blue-rinsed hang them all brigade'. Maybe the next Labour leader could try it on for size.

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