Postcard from The Staterooms: The Silly Season that isn’t….A riot?

“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”
Immanuel Kant

Kant had a point – and in this last week to ten days with the riots, I think reason, considered reason, is of great value.  While I faffed about on twitter this morning, irritating  a few fellow tweeters with my references to the ‘criminal’ activity of The Bullingdon Club (which the Prime Minister belonged to in his youth) and noting the arson which Nick Clegg engaged in during his youth – the recent rioting and looting is a serious issue and deserves serious reason being applied to the causes and the solution.

I am not a sociologist.  Many have written on the subject.  Many have tweeted.  David Allen Green wrote in his Jack of Kent blog about the riots – quoting the historian Conrad Russell: The riots and lawlessness.  I hosted a Without Prejudice podcast on the subject last week with regular panelists Carl Gardner, David Allen Green and guests Dr Evan Harris, solicitor David Wales and human rights barrister Adam Wagner.

There are dangers in a perfectly understandable ‘swing to the right’ from commentators, politicians and public sentiment.  There are dangers in quick and expedient justice, rushed justice, ‘exemplary’ (or should that be ‘to make an example of’ ?) justice.   Matthew Taylor considers the sentence in a case involving a bottle of water worth £3.50:  Nicholas Robinson; Burglary; 6 months: An appropriate sentence?   Matthew Taylor notes: “The English riots, by Adam Wagner at UK Human Rights Blog, gathers a number of resources on different aspects legal of rioting, including advice for reporters and on policing powers. One of items Adam links to is a post by ObiterJ, Who will pay? We all will ! The Riot (Damages) Act 1886″

Today, in The Guardian, a number of interesting law oriented  articles: Riots: magistrates advised to ‘disregard normal sentencing’ | UK riots: Judges warned by Law Society not to hand down ‘rushed justice’.

Suzanne Moore’s article, intelligent and thoughtful, provides some food for thought: UK riots: don’t shut these kids out now.

This cartoon, which I found on twitter, sums up the view of many trying to make sense of non-sense through dark humour…

Barrister Lucy Reed, writing on her Pink Tape blog, tries to make sense from non-sense with this thoughtful piece: There’s been a riot in my living room

And this interesting viewpoint from the Civil Service is well worth a read: A challenge for the civil service – and large institutions alike.

This important issue isn’t going to to be solved by politicians scoring political points – but it may be solved with considered reason.  Most people have a pretty shrewd idea why the riots happened.  Surely, we don’t need yet another public inquiry to kick the issue into the long grass, to use a cliche of our times?

And we certainly don’t need a knee-jerk reaction to give government an opportunity to erode further our civil liberties because politicians of all flavours have not addressed long standing social issues and a minority of people rioted – some with malicious intent;  others, young people, who may have got drawn into it through excitement, boredom, and similar excesses of youth to those experienced by young students who trash(ed) restaurants as members of The Bullingdon Club and a young Mr Clegg,  who set fire to a collection of cacti collected by a German professor because he got drunk.

Back tomorrow with a podcast and some other law coverage

Best, as always


8 thoughts on “Postcard from The Staterooms: The Silly Season that isn’t….A riot?

  1. In these moments of madness we all seem to be searching for a reason to explain things. There is no answer that could do justice to the chaos and sense of powerlessness we probably all felt in watching others c&^p in their own backyard. A public inquiry or some such nonsense would be a waste of time as would a national conversation (what does that mean? We all talk to our neighbours over the garden fence or terrace balcony…or through a locked key hole more like!). The malaise in our society is not going to be solved or properly understood by a bunch of do-gooders coming along with a slew of reasons, and suggesting if only we did this or that it would all be OK. Nonsense. The disengagement with society will remain and only get worse. We have and always were a society of have and have nots, and the frustration of the riots was simply (an understatement if there was ever one) an outpouring of frustration with our things obsessed culture: “If s/he has got that then I want it too”. I feel sick to my stomach that people could loot, cause riot and burn buildings for what? A new pair of trainers …! I think all of us have to accept some responsibility for the fact that we have lost our sense of community. That pulling together in times of crises and looking out for one another. I was fortunate to grow up with all my great-grandparents still alive and who fought in the First World War. Perhaps they were Victorian in their outlook but surely we owe it to them and those that have fought in subsequent wars to try and invoke a sense of that community, however that happens. I am very lucky to live in an area where we still have a community and I can’t imagine anyone want to steal anything from anyone. They would just go and ask for it and we would all gladly provide it.

  2. What I find a little worrying is the news that magistrates are being advised to ignore normal sentencing guidelines. Can someone who knows more about law than I do (that’s probably pretty much everyone here) tell me if that would give someone good grounds for appeal against their sentence, if they were given a much harsher sentence than a similar crime would normally attract?

  3. It is obvious that these exceptional sentences will spawn a whole slew of appeals to the Court of Appeal. More lovely lolly for the lawyers !!!! And “they” say that crime doesn’t pay !! It will – for the lawyers !!!!

  4. It is very noticeable that District Judges have been used to take a “tough” line in the Magistrates’ Courts. Some sentences have been handed out by these judges which are questionable – e.g. 6 months imprisonment to a person who stole but who had no previous and pleaded guilty having handed himself in. Furthermore, there is more than a little reason to think that refusal of bail has been used as a “punishment” rather than for the proper statutory purposes. I may do a more detailed analysis later.

    We do not need knee jerk reactions from politicians who, let’s face it, were caught napping. The one thing which law-abiding people do need from this government is a commitment to ensuring adequate policing. This does not necessarily mean an end to a drive for efficiency but the cuts being insisted on by the Treasury are taking a major risk with public safety.

    I am not entirely sure that I believe media reports that magistrates were told to ignore sentencing guidelines. That would actually be unlawful. However, the guidance can be departed from for good reason which MUST be stated in open court. Offending during widespread disorder is a factor which would, I think, justify a tougher sentence but the question then is how much tougher. A simple answer is not possible since everything depends on the actual offence and offender.

  5. and departing from following the bail act would be…

    obiter, you don’t believe there was a directive? why did a magistrate talk about one? they are honest people. it’s great that one magistrate (people doing it for no money, remember, and i believe in most cases because they want to make their society better) bless their honest heart, blithely related they had been ‘directed’ to get tough. i do hope the offender will be pushed rapidly through the courts denied bail and sent to the crown court charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. cos that’s what it is. i also trust the police will put this case in their ‘target’ of 3000. makes you wonder whether, if they are short of target, they will start scraping the bottom of the barrel and just arresting people for making random comments about riots on facebook and the like. don’t worry – only joking. still, how we would laugh if that happened!

    i also love the fact they don’t trust the mags to tow the line and are making sure the djs are doing lots of the hearings – no no, i’m just being cynical – it’s a scheduling matter! dj i had the other day was at least honest in that he didn’t even pretend to be listening to defence subs.

    great also that china are now taking the piss noting our knee-jerk wish to deny access to social media in times of stress. and they are damn right – we were pretty censorious about them doing it. fortunately we are a democracy so all is well – nothing to see – move along.

    you are on the money as usual, though, obiter (i suppose i have to qualify ‘on the money’ – just means i agree with you. again.) please do the ‘more detailed analysis’ – we need all the voices we can talking about how the judiciary has been influenced in this matter in ways that are entirely improper and (as you say) unlawful.

    is all this this the death (or maybe temporary removal) of due process? i think probably yes.

    me? bitter?? fuck yeah!

    * and just a pedant point to john dowdle. i am a junior defending in the mags – i get £50 an appearance.
    for this i may have to wait for papers that have gone missing (and loads have in the current situation) or a client taken somewhere at random or a host of other ‘dog ate my homework’ type factors and have my 10.00am hearing stood over to 2pm for no fault of my own. that means i earn £50 all day. would you do that? if you’re good enough, you are of course free to train (bvc costs c15K in london) and try and get pupillage (maybe 1 in 4 serious applicants get one) and join us on the worst gravy train in the universe. fair to say that you get more in the crown court, but those are by and large the rates in the mags. and before anyone points out i chose to do this – yes i did and i enjoy it (not claiming it’s all about art. 6, but it’s a challenge i enjoy) – but it ain’t no gravy train. as i say, if you aren’t convinced, just buy your ticket and you too can be rich. RICH i tell yah!* bpp will be glad of the money.

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