Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lord Ramsbotham on prisons

Wise words from Lord Ramsbotham on our increasingly shambolic criminal justice system. Writing in the Independent, the former chief inspector of prisons makes it clear that much of the blame for the current state of affairs can be placed on the Government. He also highlights a shocking statistic: in the past five years, the rate of reoffending among adult males has increased from 55 per cent to 67 per cent.

He gives the following reasons for the current state of affairs:
  • increase in crime legislation resulting in more prison sentences;
  • failure to resource prisons to ensure that they provide work, education and training;
  • low morale amongst the workforce;
  • poorly drafted legislation;
  • refusal of the Government to listen to experts;
  • overworked probation services.
His suggestions?
  • regional, as opposed to national, management of prisons;
  • appointment in each prison of officers who will be responsible and accountable for each type of prisoner;
  • redefinition of the role of Area Criminal Justice Boards to include a say in job training;
  • local authorities to establish adult male offender teams to deal with low-level offenders, thereby leaving the more serious convicts to the probation officers.
I'm not sure I agree with all his suggestions, but they are at least a starting point for meaningful debate. I would add a further suggestion: build more prisons.

For more on prisons, check out the excellent PrisonWorks initiative.
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Monday, November 27, 2006

What islamic fundamentalists really want

Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph on the Pope's impending visit to Turkey, and what muslim fanatics really want:
What Islamic fundamentalism plans to achieve (and it has made no secret of it) is a righting of the great wrong of 1492, when the Muslims were expelled from Spain: a return of the Caliphate, the destruction of corrupt Western values, and the establishment of Sharia law in all countries where Muslims reside. That is what we are up against. ... What is being demanded is the surrender of everything that Western democracy regards as sacred: even, ironically, the freedom to practise one's own religion, which, at the moment, is so useful to Muslim activists. We are forced to accept the Islamist movement's own estimation of the conflict: this is a war to the death, or until Islamism decides to call a halt.
Very true. The question is, what are we, as a society, going to do about it? We are fast approaching the point where craven concession to even the smallest (seemingly innocent) demands will spell danger for all of us. We are facing an enemy that wants nothing more than to destroy our society, and our values, whether by terrorism or more insidious means. Benign tolerance is no longer an option.
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10 things (better late than never)

I've been tagged by Ellee and The Last Boy Scout. Should have done this last
week, but here goes ...

Ten things I would never do:

1) Anything related to Harry Potter
2) Address anyone as 'love'
3) Drink beer
4) Vote Labour
5) Pay for a copy of the Guardian
6) Eat soup
7) Listen to Gordon Brown without sneering
8) Trust Blair
9) Like Bono
10) Love free verse

I'm tagging Morag the Mindbender, Global Village Shaman, Onyx Stone,
Mike Rouse.
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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blogging resumes ...


Sorry for the break in transmission. Been away. Back now.

Ellee has tagged me for something. I'd better go over to her
blog to find out what's been going on in my absence.

More posts to follow shortly.
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Friday, November 17, 2006

School retreats on halal-only menu

Good to see ordinary folk striking a blow against political correctness. This interesting story from the Telegraph:
Parents have forced a comprehensive school to back down over plans to offer only halal chicken on its Christmas dinner menu. Pupils will now also have the option of traditional turkey with trimmings as a choice after the intervention of a former Government minister.
Nothing more to say, really. People are beginnning to speak out against the takeover of their traditional customs and values. Let us hope that this continues.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

John Reid's plans to evict homeowners

The latest brainwave from the Government in the crackdown on anti-social behaviour:

Homeowners could be evicted from their houses for yobbish behaviour under plans to punish "neighbours from hell". Home Secretary John Reid announced today that he would be giving police and local authorities the power to impose "closure orders" on any property where there is serious anti-social behaviour.

I'm not too sure I agree with arbitrarily depriving people of the right to use their property. And yes, I said arbitrarily. If (and this is a very big if) property rights must be interfered with in this manner, I would like to see this spelt out very clearly in legislation, together with the very narrow circumstances in which it should be applied. That is not something I am confident that this Government can do, given its proven ineptitude at legislative drafting. If anyone should be deprived of their property, I would expect it to be as a result of a court order, and nothing less. These are the only qualifications I can even countenance. My every instinct is against such an exercise of power. Seizing the property of criminals in an attempt to recover ill-gotten gains is one thing, seizing the home of a yob and his family for keeping the neighbourhood up all night is something else altogether.

The authorities currently have power to evict tenants and board up 'crack houses'. Extending these powers to nuisance neighbours and the like is a step too far. For one thing, boarded up houses in a neighbourhood give the appearance of neglect, and what better way to attract crime to an area?

There is a world of difference between evicting a tenant and seizing a homeowner's property. In the case of the former, a tenancy agreement would have set out the tenant's obligations, the breach of which would entitle the landlord to evict. Where the local authority is the landlord, it is all in order for them to evict a yobbish tenant. However, I cannot see anything that can justify seizing a homeowner's property under these circumstances. Is he still liable for the mortgage during his period of banishment, I wonder?

Under the plans, the authorities, in their magnanimity, will allow the exiled homeowner to return after three months if they undertake to behave themselves. What next? A duty on banks to check the status of potential buyers, and not to give mortgages to people who have been issued ASBOs?

One other question. Where does the Government intend to put all these troublemakers once they have been evicted? They will most likely end up in a hostel somewhere with other yobs and low-level criminals who have been similarly evicted from their dwellings, thereby concentrating the problem in one area. Pity the poor souls who live in such environs.

Anti-social behaviour is not 'tackled' by moving the perpetrators from one part of town to another. That would simply move the problem around without solving it. I would advise a rethink of these plans.
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The New Labour guide to child rearing

After the Government's 17-page guide to cat owners was wisely withdrawn last week, I thought that perhaps they were beginning to mend their ways. No way. According to the Daily Mail, our beloved Government is back to its interfering best.
Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said. Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said. Their children's well-being is at risk 'unless we act', she declared.
How long before we are required by law to sign over our children to the Government as soon as they are born? Only then would they be satisfied that their 'nursery rhyme requirements', diet requirements and other sundry requirements are met. We could then be granted, in strictly limited circumstances, weekend access visits under the supervision of a Parental Control Co-ordinator, or some such. Our homes would, of course, first be checked to ensure that dangerous items like sweets, cakes and crisps are removed from the premises before the visit takes place. Are you listening, Tony? Gordon? What are you waiting for? Come on, you know it's a good idea. Surely, it's the next logical step. And what's more, it's probably not too late to include it in the Queen's Speech tomorrow.
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Monday, November 13, 2006

Prisoners' payout for cold turkey in jail

The Government has been forced to settle out of court and pay compensation to prisoners who were forced off heroin, and had to undergo cold turkey in prison. The prisoners had claimed that this amounted to 'assault' and a breach of their human rights.

My first reaction on hearing the news was one of incredulity. However, after considering the facts, I think the Government was right to settle the case, at least in the case of any prisoners who were already undergoing treatment before incarceration.

If we are to take the view (which many do) that drug addiction is an illness, the Government should have ensured that the prisoners continued to receive 'treatment' after they were locked up. In just the same way as someone being treated under the NHS would continue to receive treatment in jail, the appropriate authorities should have ensured that treatment continued in prison.

There is, of course, the argument that 'cold turkey' could be considered a form of treatment, albeit not the one that the prisoners were undergoing before being jailed. The Government could have argued that it was not up to the prisoners to choose which method of treatment they received; ie continued methadone versus cold turkey. This argument would have been bound to fail, however, as it would probably have been impossible to show that cold turkey treatment was given as a deliberate, coherent and informed strategy. Chances are that the prisoners were just thrown into jail, and that was that.

I am not against cold turkey per se, and in future, the Government may well win such a case on similar facts, if they can show that that was the most suitable treatment available, taking into account all the circumstances of the case.

Getting people to come off drugs is a Good Thing, not only for the addicts, but for society as a whole. For one thing, the crime rate would come tumbling down, as many who commit crime to fund their habits would do so no longer. If we are to be serious about the drugs problem, we need to adopt proper methods for detoxifying drug addicts, whether in or out of jail. If a drug addict who is receiving treatment is sent to jail and the treatment is discontinued, this is of no advantage to anyone. For one thing, the investment in his treatment up to that point will have been wasted. I suppose what today's news should highlight is the need for prison authorities to ensure that convicts already undergoing treatment be allowed to continue receiving such treatment. By all means, impose cold turkey in future, but let this be the result of a properly thought-out drugs policy. What a prison authority must never do is deny basic health care to its inmates.

UPDATE. Every blog I read on this topic yesterday was of a contrary view to mine (see, for example, Ellee Seymour, West Brom Blog and The Thunder Dragon). I hadn't seen Tim Worstall's post, which argued on broadly the same lines as mine. He states (in my view, rightly) that it is not altogether unreasonable to expect the Home Office to take responsibility for the standard of medical care received by prisoners in their care. It really is not about the heroin at all. It is about treatment.
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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Peter Hain threatens City bonuses

Despite their attempts to pretend otherwise, the green-eyed monster is alive and well in the Labour party. Here is this story from The Sunday Times:
Peter Hain, who is bidding to become Labour’s next deputy leader, has threatened government curbs on “grotesque” City bonuses ... . He is warning that unless Britain’s business community shows more restraint in the pay and perks of top executives, the government should intervene to regulate them.
Exactly what business is it of Mr Hain's and the Government's what a company, accountable to no one but its shareholders, chooses to pay its executives? And this from a Government that has done its utmost to stifle private enterprise. This Government has subjected business to the most complicated, burdensome tax regime ever. On top of that, it has taxed it heavily, regulated it highly, and raided its pension funds. So much so that warnings are increasingly being sounded about the increasing appeal of other countries (see here, here and here). These businesses deliver high taxes to the Treasury, which are then wasted in typical New Labour fashion. Not content with all that, they are now turning their interfering gaze to boardroom pay.

Peter Hain is standing for Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party, and no doubt knows that this sort of talk goes down well with the Party faithful. This is nothing but the politics of class envy, playing to the baser instincts of his Party members. And this from a Cabinet minister in a so-called 'modernising' Government. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.
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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Griffin not guilty, cartoon protester guilty

While Nick Griffin was swaggering free from court yesterday, another jury was convicting an islamic thug of the same offence with which Griffin had been charged. Mizanur Rahman was one of the protesters against the Danish cartoons. The jury found him guilty of incitement to racial hatred, but could not agree on a charge of incitement to murder.

So why was Griffin acquitted and Rahman convicted? Well, for starters, Rahman was not in a private place speaking to like-minded people. He was standing outside the Danish embassy in London, in full view of the passers-by and television cameras openly filming. While one could argue in the case of Griffin that as he was speaking to BNP sympathisers, he was not 'stirring up' any hatred that wasn't already astir, in Rahman's case, his message was to all and sundry.

And what was he saying? Unlike Griffin who restricted himself to offensive insults, Rahman was openly enjoining people to kill. He was carrying placards saying "Annihilate those who insult Islam" and "Behead those who insult Islam". (He also addressed the crowd, saying that he wanted to see British and American troops return home in body bags. I wouldn't class this as 'incitement to murder', but that is a subject for another post.)

I still have a problem with the 'racial hatred' aspect. Islam is not a race. Just as I did not think that Nick Griffin should have been charged with a race hate crime for insulting islam, I do not think Rahman should have been charged with the same crime for his comments about non-muslims. The placards he carried were a clear incitement to murder, and it is right that that charge was laid. As the jury failed to reach a verdict on that, I hope there will be a retrial.
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Friday, November 10, 2006

Nick Griffin - the right verdict

Nick Griffin has been acquitted of a charge of using words and behaviour intended to stir up racial hatred. The charges were based on a speech he made to BNP party faithful. Referring to islam, he said: 'This wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago.' He said a lot of other things besides, including some offensive things about non-white people.

I believe the Not Guilty verdict was the right one in this case. Griffin argued that the comments were made in private. While the law acknowledges that the offence can be committed in a private place, broadly speaking, there is no offence if the comments are made in a dwelling, and are not heard by anyone outside that place. All the accused has to do is prove that he had no reason to believe that his comments would be heard by anyone outside.

Nick Griffin made his comments to like-minded people at a meeting in a pub. It was clear that he did not expect anyone outside that room to hear what he was saying. He was recorded saying that if his words got outside the room, he would 'get seven years'. That, to me, is proof that his comments were intended for 'internal consumption', so to speak.

As for 'stirring up' racial hatred, I am sure his audience did not need Griffin to do that for them. As BNP sympathisers, they were most likely convinced of the same things as he. Quite how he could be accused of intending to stir up racial hatred when he was making a speech to like-minded folk, I don’t know. You could say he was preaching to the converted.

I am still not sure why the rude remarks about islam should have been the basis of a race hate charge. I would have thought the ‘islam is not a race’ truism had been widely accepted by all and sundry. If someone could explain this to me, I'd appreciate it.

No doubt about it, the BNP is a racist party. Some of their policies are utterly racist and repulsive. The fact that they have been acquitted does not mean their policies have been approved by the jury. Today's judgment is nothing more than the result of the law being properly applied; as such it is a victory for free speech and justice. One can be grossly offensive and racist without necessarily committing a crime. That is the most important lesson from today's judgment.

Many are unhappy with the verdict. That is understandable. Sky News is reporting Gordon Brown as saying that the race hate laws may be changed. That is definitely not the right way to go about it. There is nothing wrong with the law as it applied to this case. If politicians find the outcome so unpalatable, they should do something sensible about it. The way to address racism is to have unhindered debate about these issues. Let there be no sacred cows. Let everything be up for debate; islam, immigration, everything. Shine the light into these dark areas and we will drive out the racists. If, however, we are prevented from discussing such issues because of political correctness, self-loathing or any such dogma, Griffin and his thugs will seize the platform every single time.
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Thursday, November 09, 2006

They trust us - a little

Glad to see that even for our bossy, interfering and over-prescriptive Government, there are limits:
A government guide that tells pet owners to provide private lavatories for their cats — and "mental stimulation" to prevent them getting bored —is to be withdrawn. ... The 17-page document lays down rules that cat owners should abide by to ensure the health, safety and happiness of their pets."
Here are some of the words of advice for the clueless cat owners:
"Your cat should have somewhere private to go to the toilet with sufficient clean litter ... You should ensure your cat gets enough mental stimulation from you and from its environment so that it does not become bored and frustrated."
Never mind that the 'guidance' was only withdrawn after protests from MPs. In withdrawing the document, they appear to have realised that cat owners, by and large, are not witless incompetents who would be unable to carry out commonplace tasks without the Government coming along to hold their hands. Nevertheless I am surprised the document was withdrawn. We have become so used to Government interference that it no longer surprises us when another window is opened into our already over-scrutinised and over-regulated lives. We are instead shocked when they realise they have gone too far.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Olympic Games VAT bill: a gift for Gordon Brown?

Following on from my post yesterday about the Olympic Games VAT fiasco. More details have emerged as to how the London Olympics could face an unexpected £1bn VAT bill. The Government did not, after all, do its homework properly. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was set up with the wrong structure, as far as VAT waiver is concerned. The current corporate structure of the ODA is such that, if VAT is waived, it would breach the EU rules on state aid. Apparently, they had envisaged a different corporate structure at the outset, and no-one realised that using the current structure would lead to this result. Such incompetence is astonishing, but not surprising, given this Government's cavalier attitude to legislative detail and finance.

Tony Blair has now said that taxpayers would not be approached to make up the shortfall. This is welcome news, assuming you trust him. I don't. Where then will the money come from? If Gordon Brown does not 'ride to the rescue', then the National Lottery Fund is the likely target. Cynic that I am, I suspect Gordon Brown, with an eye on his political ambitions, will waive the VAT. As I suggested yesterday, he may want to use this to boost his popularity. I can see the headline in the Sun already, 'Brown saves London Olympics'.

UPDATE. I have been having an interesting discussion in the comments with Alan of Daily Propaganda, about whether or not the £1bn VAT bill will make any real impact, or if the payment is just a circular transaction between two departments. He has also written an insightful post about the funding details of the Olympics, and the Chancellor's commitment to underwrite any extra costs. Interesting material.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

London Olympics facing £1bn VAT bill

Dearie me, at first glance, it looked as though the Olympic planning folk had not done their homework properly:
"The 2012 Olympics were hit by a £1 billion tax bombshell today. The Treasury has told organisers they must pay VAT on building and staging the Games - a cost which was not built into the initial budget. It is refusing to back down on the bill, saying European rules on competition mean it cannot be seen to be aiding the 2012 organisers."

But then on further reading, it turns out that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell had promised, when the London Olympics Bill was going through Parliament, that the VAT would be waived by the Treasury.

Maybe that was the original plan. However, now that the costs are in danger of spiralling out of control, dear Gordon is well and truly in a quandary of schizophrenic dimensions. Should he 'generously' waive all VAT, thus boosting his popularity, or should he act 'according to nature' and sting them for every last penny? It will be interesting to watch this one unfold. The downside is that if Gordon does claim the VAT, London council tax payers will find out all about it in a very painful way.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam and the mid-term elections

The White House denies that it engineered things so that Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death just in time for the mid-term elections. I doubt that the verdict will make that much difference to the Republicans' fortunes. There was no prospect of Saddam Hussein being found anything other than guilty, so it was only a matter of waiting for the verdict to be delivered. I would be inclined to argue the other way. Saddam's loyalists have already been out on the streets threatening vengeance. Any ensuing violence would surely not be to the Republicans' advantage, as it would only reinforce the point that Iraq is in a state of shambolic lawlessness. In any case, most Americans' views on the war are already settled one way or another, and therefore not likely to be swayed by a verdict that was widely predicted and expected.
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Blogging resumes

After a few days of rest, this blog is back. It was good to take a break and do some proper reading. I also discovered many interesting blogs. I tried to stay away from political blogs - we have more than enough of that already. Instead, I pursued my interests in economics, literature and philosophy, and was pleasantly surprised to discover many blogs dedicated to these topics. I have created a separate category in my sidebar for blogs dealing (as far as such a thing is possible) with non-political issues. I hope you find them interesting. I am on the look-out for any more interesting blogs, and will add some more in due course.
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Christians stirring from sleep

Glad to see that voices are being raised against the increased marginalisation of Christians in this country.

A leading church group which represents more than a million Christians has raised the prospect of civil unrest and even "violent revolution" to protect religious freedoms.
In a startling warning to the Government, senior church and political figures have backed a report advocating force to protest against policies that are "unbiblical" and "inimical to the Christian faith".

Hope it doesn't come to violence, though. That is not the Christian way. No need to follow the godless, bloodthirsty jihadists down that path.
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