What price justice?

There’s a lot in the news at the moment which is distressing, confusing or depressing, sometimes all three at once.  Wars and rumours of wars.  Corruption and scandal.  And, or so it seems to me, a disturbing new direction in criminal justice laws, often prompted by the so-called war on terror.  I don’t often ‘do’ controversial or speak up in a public forum, but there are times when it seems necessary.  One of the most recent rumblings that has put my back up concerns a possible UK version of ‘Megan’s Law’.

This is a law that would allow the ‘naming and shaming’ of paedophiles and similar offenders who have served their prison term and been released into the community.  Now, you won’t find me arguing with anyone who says that paedophilia and child abuse are terrible, terrible things.  However, I cannot see how such a law would be a good thing.  There is definitely a case for reviewing sentencing, and the Home Office definitely does need to tighten up its act with regard to knowing where ex-offenders are living and working.  But why should the general public have access to that information?

It has been several years since the case of a Welsh paediatrician who had her home vandalised, apparently by people who didn’t know the difference between ‘paediatrician’ and ‘paedophile’.  I am highly doubtful that this is an isolated case.  Such a new law would, I believe, lead to an increase in similar acts of mob violence (although largely directed at more appropriate targets, if there is such a thing).  Children should be protected from harm, but vandalism and violence against potential threats is not the way to do it.  I may be a fan of the comic book adventures of Batman et al, but I cannot approve of real-life vigilantism in any form that goes beyond the remit of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme. 

Other brief sound-bites on this issue:

  • Leopards can change their spots – it doesn’t happen consistently, perhaps not even frequently, but people can reform and change their ways. 
  • What about people who have similar names to ex-offenders? 
  • Isn’t it true that a large proportion of child abuse (sexual or otherwise) is carried out by people who already know the child well?  Family members or ‘trusted’ adults?  Surely a proper implementation of the police check system would mean that ex-offenders cannot get into such a position of trust again?

I am not trying to pretend that re-offending never happens.  I know that this is an emotive issue, and I know that it’s entirely possible that I have overlooked something obvious.  It’s even possible that I’ve been carried away by an instinctive desire to oppose any campaign launched by the News of the World.  It just strikes me that the possibility of this law, along with others including detention without trial for terrorism suspects, is a deeply disturbing possibility.  A backwards step that should be avoided if at all possible.

Oh, and it may interest you to know that I have had to pass a Criminal Records Bureau check twice.  Once for my job in the library, as the entire staff was checked when the university began to host summer schools for teenagers.  And once to enable me to help with Sunday School at my church.  This is a good thing, and this is the scheme which, if used and ‘policed’ properly, will surely be the greatest weapon in the fight against this sort of crime.

  1. I agree whole-heartedly.

    I am also worried that child abusers will be far far more likely to go on the run and hide from the police if this law is passed, to protect themselves from the lynch mobs as much as anything. When they are registred now, they get checked up on regularly. If they are hiding and unregistred, no one will be checking up on them. No one will be ensuring they behave. They will be isolated and frightened of being found and angry. Isolated frightened angry people do stupid things.

    And the hypocrisy, the mouth-dryingly bitter hypocrisy, of it, is that the immense majority of abused children are abused by their family and friends. This law will not help them at all. If it is passed, I predict (with much soreness of heart) that the rates of abuse will go up, not down.

  2. What you both said. Plus the observation that odd things are happening to justice these days. You’ve both seen the piece in the Independent about Blair’s apparent failure to understand the principles of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. But there is a lynch-mob mentality on the wonderweb which I’ve already commented about.

    The clocks have struck thirteen my dears.


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