TCS Daily

The Constant Pardoner

By Peter C. Glover - June 23, 2006 12:00 AM

The minimum five-year sentence for convicted pedophile Craig Sweeney has deepened the public's crisis of confidence in the British criminal justice system -- and stirred the government into pledging a 'sentencing review'. But while the mother of Sweeney's three-year-old victim spoke of wanting to "throttle the judge" who sentenced Sweeney, it is actually the liberalized system itself which may need "throttling". That's the point soon to be made by an explosive new film currently in production entitled Outlaw.

Nick Love's film, starring Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins, is designed to show the devastating consequences of a British justice system soft on criminals. The film focuses on five vigilantes who, "betrayed by their government and let down by the police", take matters into their own hands, meting out summary justice with baseball bats, knives and fists. What Charles Bronson's Death Wish character brought to cheering audiences in the 1970s, Love's Outlaw appears destined to repeat for contemporary audiences.

is more than just another film for Love, who is himself a reformed teenage criminal and heroin user who claims to have been saved by the "short sharp shock" Tory policy of the 1980s. "I'm the living proof, if you like, that taking a hardline approach to young criminals works," says Love.

Love began writing the screenplay two years ago. At the time he suspected the British public were already beginning to lose patience with the government's liberalizing of criminal policies. He could not have realized how soon that patience might run out.

Since he came into office in 2001, the UK's attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, has exercised his power to refer sentences that he regards as "unduly lenient" back to the Court of Appeal no less than 698 times. Of these, 414 offenders had their sentences increased. This figure alone suggests that there is an inherent unwillingness on the part of judges to punish offenders with appropriate custodial sentences at a time when Britain's crime rates are among the highest in the developed world.

But what has really deepened the concern of the British people with the British justice system is the growing awareness of just what "do-gooder" liberal polices mean in practice. They include:

  • automatic one-third discount of sentence for pleading guilty.
  • automatic eligibility for parole after half the sentence is served.
  • an early release scheme to aid the issue of over-crowded prisons.
  • the supplanting of a "punishment that fits the crime" ethos with an emphasis on rehabilitation (i.e. rehabilitating the offender becomes a higher priority than punishment for the crime).

In the case of Craig Sweeney the problem was not the judge's life sentence with an 18-year minimum tariff. It was the "legalese" that served automatically to cut the sentence by one-third when Sweeney pleaded guilty. Yet, having abducted the three-year old girl from her own house and being caught red-handed with her in his car you have to wonder why a guilty plea mattered.

Alan Webster filmed himself raping a 12-week-old baby, an act simply too appalling for most of us to even contemplate. Even though the video footage of the crime was available to the court Webster's guilty plea meant an automatic one-third sentence discount for him, too. What on earth is going on here? Rapist Anthony Rice was released on parole only to strangle Naomi Bryant nine months later. But just why should parole halfway through a sentence be an automatic right?

Last week Judge Michael Byrne sentenced another pedophile to three years' community service after he pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing indecent images. The judge's reasoning for not passing a 12-month prison sentence was bizarre. It was, he claimed, because the custodial period made the defendant "ineligible for any of the help mechanisms available in prison". Again, just why should offender "help" trump due punishment for the crime? Some, it seems, have entirely lost sight of what the criminal justice system is for.

But without doubt one of the key elements leading the government, judiciary and parole boards toward a culture of early release and avoidance of custodial sentences is the issue of prison over-crowding. To pursue the simple expedient of building more prisons, a policy lately urged by the conservatives, would, it seems, be tantamount to an admission of defeat for the government's entire "modernizing" crime strategy.

Nick Love's Outlaw is not, as some will undoubtedly claim, a prescription for vigilantism on the streets. Rather, it is a stark warning of the perhaps inevitable consequences when a state fails to perform its central function: the protection of society and its law-abiding citizenry.

As Love's movie lead puts it, "If you want to spend the rest of your life being raped and bullied...and letting the pedophiles wander the playgrounds while you smile mutely and pay your taxes, then walk out the door." I suspect there won't be too many "walking out" on Outlaw however, unless it is because of its explicit content.

Love's film is set to further highlight how a society soft on criminals suffers when it makes the basic mistake of deeming pragmatic liberalizing policies - revealing a greater concern for the offender than for the victim and for the individual than for the community - a higher priority than justice.

Peter C. Glover was a legal executive with the British Crown Prosecution Service for 16 years (including three years as a national spokesman). He is a writer and a TCS contributor.



In the 70s English visitors were afraid of NY
There were all sorts of stories about tourists being mugged and stories about violent crime. Americans reaped what the Left sowed, lenient punishments. We learned, the English didn't. There crime rates are double the typical US city. They can't blame the 13 million poor illegals as a cause of crime. But the Left has destroyed the old Britain and created a new one. Diverse, without tradition, or the glue of an English identity. The yaboos have taken over and its hell there.

I won't be re5turning any time soon.

the "cure " for sex offenders,etc
the cure is a bullet between the eyes

England is in Sad Shape
Thank GOD for the right to keep & bear arms; our right to defend ourselves! The US recognizes this & England doesn't. Crime has risen in England since they have been enforcing their gun controls & bans, also prosecuting those who defend themselves. This is also happening in Austraila.

The MSM & conventional jabberworky has demonized the NRA as a fringe group for 40 years or more. What they disregard is that the right to keep & bear arms - to defend ourselves - is a civil right, just like freedom of speech & the others. Those who are attacking the right to keep & bear arms are attacking civil rights.

another reason
I was just listening to a radio programme about this topic that said the the UK was already very distressed that they had so many people in prisons(I think 20 or 30% are muslims)because it compairs badly with continental europe those places let free EVEN MORE criminals to run around and terrorize the populations. Most of those places, like the UK, also don't allow people to defend themselves. Remeber the story wherby even knitting needles are considered a dangerous weapon? I guess a woman was walking around in the countrside and was attacked by a rapists. Apparently she had some needles with her and used them to defend herself. Later she herself was indicted because of that.

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