It is important that all sectors of the community, interested in the English legal system, are given an opportunity to respond to the current crisis on prison capacity.
Tonight I was able to talk to the secretary-general of the newly formed ASBO Holders Association (AHA) who invited me to a secret location in London.
With his consent I recorded the interview. His lawyer and three council members of AHA, who were not engaged on official AHA business or activity on the streets of London tonight, have approved this report. I would like to stress that ‘Hamish’ (Not his real name) has not been paid for this interview nor has any donation, loan, gift or benefit in kind been given to Hamish or AHA.
This is what Hamish told me tonight….
“It is clearly not a satisfactory state of affairs when the home secretary is placed in a position where he has to write to the the Chief Justice of this country to advise that judges may have to consider alternative sentences to prison for those who practice criminality because of a shortage of prison places. AHA takes the view that the government of this country owes a duty of care to criminals – and those likely to be given ASBOS – to provide appropriate accommodation in a prison or other secure unit. Our members expect, when they go about their business, to do so in the knowledge, that if they do a job well, that their efforts will be rewarded and recognised with a prison sentence.
We believe that the Home Office, in failing to provide sufficient prison places, is ‘not fit for purpose’ and we shall be taking this up at the highest levels. On Monday we will be talking to senior officials at The Commission in Brussels to see if the United Kingdom is in breach of any European Union directives and, further, we will be bringing a claim in the European Court of Justice to the effect that the human rights of our members are being breached by the United Kingdom government’s failure to provide proper prison accomodation.
While I can understand Lord Phillip’s stating today… and I quote from The BBC news website: “The home secretary has not sought to instruct judges to stop imposing sentences of imprisonment.” It is simply not good enough. Interestingly, Lord Phillips is reported as saying “There is well and long established authority of the Court of Appeal that in such circumstances it is appropriate for the judge to have regard to prison overcrowding.”
Interestingly, a retired judge, Keith Matthewman (who does not share the view or opinion epressed by the Chief Justice) supports our view that the judiciary should have absolutely no regard to the administrative incompetence of the Home Office when considering sentences – and we approve his sentiments as reported today by the BBC – which I quote: “I don’t know any judge in this country who’s ever heard of this being said, that this is something that you take into consideration when you pass sentence,” he said. “You can’t take it into consideration. You’ve got to pass sentence on the crime.”
Our members need to know, when they engage in activity likely to result in a custodial sentence, if they are caught, that the full rigour of the law will be applied. It is simply not acceptable to us to be told by a judge that we cannot be imprisoned because there are no places left in British prisons. There is little point in our members engaging in criminal conduct if we are to be told that there is no risk. We may as well stay at home and watch Strictly Come Dancing or, in the case of our unemployed members, get jobs. Where would we be then?
No… we support the views of those judges who intend to disregard the advice given by the home secretary and we shall certainly be doing our best to find out where these more robust judges sit to ensure that our members are able to engage in criminality in a proper way; knowing that there are still parts of the country where it is worth doing so. I mean…. look at what happened with the looters of that ship which went aground in Devon. It was pathetic. No risk at all…. what pleasure is there in riding a BMW bike looted off a beach when the police wave you through. And as for those hoodies knicking nappies…. they should be ashamed of themselves. Only two AHA members were spotted on that beach and both have been expelled from the Association. ”
It was a surreal meeting and quite unexpected. I left Hamish – who took a call from a counterpart in France to arrange a trip to France next week so that English AHA members could test their skills against the French Police and Judicial system. Hamish told me ‘At least in France they have plenty of space in their prisons and their CRS boys really know how to give us a run for our money.”
In a long career, I have never come across such a bizarre situation.