Thursday, May 06, 2004

Justice, and the system of Law

One of the things that always puzzled me when I was a wide-eyed happy innocent child, was the Law. To me it just did not add up. I couldn't understand how anything could be so unsystematic.

If you know anything of the electronic detail that goes into the Intel Chip that drives your computer, you have merely grasped the 0.01% of your universe that depends on a systematic and unfailingly ordered entity.

Yet the Legal/Justice system that exists today, barely qualifies as being a system.

May I draw your attention once again to Clearly Calm, the blog that is coming out of Wormwood Scrubs prison.

One of the premises of the justice "system" is that Penalty and Imprisonment of caught criminals sends an example to deter the "free" public from committing crime. This deterrent effect of preventing crime is supposed to be the most powerful influence of the Law.

This premise is flawed on several points:

1. For every criminal that gets caught, there must be at least 3 or 4 that get away. This is systematically unfair.

2. The ones that get caught tend to be the reckless ones. The others are cleverer and develop ever more devious ways of being criminal, even enough to be forcing the boundaries of definition of the Law. The uncaught may perhaps eventually even become a Chief Executive of a large bank, or energy company, or insurance company, or accountancy firm.

3. For a new kind of crime, a heavier sentence is meted out to the first caught in order to "set an example that would attract the attention of the media". This is also systematically unfair: it is supposed to advertise the deterrent effect, but is it effective? How many people can read, or choose to read, or bother to read, or get wind of all these things?

4. No effort is made to inform the Public what it is like to be imprisoned. How can you possibly be afraid of prison, if you have never been in one, or heard an ex-prisoner tell you how awful it is? Do Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer tell us what really went on in their hearts and brains when they went into prison?

One of the wisest things I ever heard about imprisonment was from the Kitchen King, Vance Miller. He has been in and out of prison many times. He said that the first month that you have been ever imprisoned is the worst imaginable experience, and if you were let out after that first month, you would probably never dare to commit a crime again. But once you get used to prison, it becomes life, and you get used to it, and it has less and less deterrent effect as time goes on.

Which brings us to the writer of Clearly Calm, who was put into prison in March. Please notice that you are watching a white collar criminal, an ex-accountant, who is in defensive shock. He has got 9 years for financial fraud. How does this compare to sentencing for a murderer, a rapist, or even a drunk driver, I wonder?

In consideration of financial fraud, this week Royal Bank of Scotland announced it is paying out US$500 million to the directors of the USA bank Charter One which it is buying for US$10.5 billion. (.. read it in the Guardian)

It is very, very easy to legitimately screw the populace for big money, without ever coming near the censure of the Law. In the realm of Corporate Governance of large widely-owned corporations, there is too much dependence on self-regulation according to ethics. There isn't enough Law, but there is plenty of nepotism and patronage.

Therein lies the systematic failure of the justice system. Follow the inequity and iniquity that will be the lot of Clearly Calm's writer. Then design a new system.

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