Monday, November 30, 2009

Treating the Teenage Thugs With Kid Gloves – Yet Again

In this blogpost back in mid-October, Clameur de Haro railed against the iniquity of giving a 16 year old thug with an appalling litany of violent crime, theft and anti-social behaviour to his name the protection of legal anonymity because of his age, thus preventing him being identified and shamed – although CdeH doubts, sadly, that the notion of shame at committing wrongdoing to others would have figured very much in the largely non-judgmental, morally relativist instruction he probably received in Jersey’s cultural-left dominated schools system.
So CdeH was heartened therefore, a few days after that mid-October post, by Deputy Trevor Pitman’s proposition to give the juvenile courts the power to curtail or set aside the protection of age-related anonymity in cases of serious assault, and to establish a legislative presumption in favour of naming - and was then subsequently even more heartened on receiving e-mails from more than one member of the Council of Ministers, saying that they welcomed and intended to support the Pitman proposition.
Amendments proposed since then both by Senator Ben Shenton and by Mr Pitman himself would restrict the liability to be named to offenders aged 16 or over, and would add other serious crimes to the list of offences where withdrawal of anonymity was applicable.
Accepting both the Shenton and Pitman amendments would mean, therefore, removing the restriction on naming, and the protection of anonymity, in cases of conviction for serious assault, murder, manslaughter, rape, or robbery, where the offender was aged 16 or over. Hardly unreasonable, Clameur de Haro would have thought, given the extent of public concern at rising levels of serious and violent crime among a determinedly recidivist section of the Island’s sub-18 youth.
Disappointingly however, CoM members are now resiling from this commitment, backed up by the Home Affairs and Education, Sport & Culture Scrutiny Panel.
The Panel oscillates between wanting to consider this issue, not in isolation but as part of a wider, more holistic approach to juvenile justice generally (translation: kicking it into the long grass and forgetting about it) and wanting to deflect the focus on to the question of parental responsibility.
But Mr Pitman is right when he says that many parents try extremely hard to keep their wayward offspring on the straight and narrow, and deserve more support. The Panel would perhaps be better employed in recommending strategies to bolster such responsible parental authority and supporting the exercise of it in any event, irrespective of any temporary and specific focus on the subject of juvenile justice - because all too often, as several of CdeH’s acquaintances have found to their dismay, the default setting of too many social services practitioners is almost always to take the child’s part against its parents and undermine parental authority.
The objections of the Ministers as articulated by the Minister for Health & Social Services are predictably, but no less disappointingly for that, based on the twin incubuses of firstly, the warped interpretations of the malevolently omnipresent international human rights industry, and secondly the predominantly child-centred, rose-tinted approach to juvenile criminality and justice which bears such a heavy responsibility for the explosion of juvenile crime over the last 30 years.
If the prescriptions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are an obstacle because Jersey’s Children’s Law does not contain the equivalent UK legislation’s distinction between a child (under the age of 14 years) and a young person (under the age of 18 years), then the remedy is surely to introduce a similar distinction into Jersey law, not for the community to wring its collective hands and say nothing can be done. Let’s not forget that the Convention was drafted in the mid-1990s, when perceptions of maturity and responsibility for criminal actions were different from those now applying.
As regards assumed conflict with the ECHR and Jersey’s 2000 Human Rights Law, that objection may not last if the incoming Cameron administration in the UK stands by its presently indicated commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act in its current too-pervasive and pernicious form, in favour of a statute less favourable to miscreants and charlatans but still protective of the rights and freedoms that the original ECHR was intended to safeguard.
We can be sure that the “all-children-are-angels” and “crime-caused-solely-by-social-conditions” lobbies would be gratifyingly discomforted were Jersey to say that, in the case of persistent violent offenders over 16, identification would not be restricted, and that the right of the overwhelmingly law-abiding public to be aware of the threat posed by repeat-offender young violent criminals in their midst justifies a derogation from the more undesirable consequences of international obligations in these circumstances. Perhaps, for once, we should just try it, rather than presuming we have no alternative to mistakenly treating repeated young violent criminals with a lack of resolve in many cases will send merely a signal of either only mild disapproval or weakness.
The Minister for Health & Social Services, interestingly, recommends both that the debate be deferred, and that the proposition be rejected – in successive paragraphs. The confusion inherent in this is consistent with the arguments advanced in the main body of her comments which (where they do not merely parrot the views of the HA & ESC Scrutiny Panel and the Law Officers), rely heavily on the discredited philosophies of seeking to understand and excuse criminality rather than dealing with it.
Although Clameur de Haro is no hanger’n’flogger, and although the range of subjects on which Clameur de Haro and Deputy Pitman would share the same opinion is probably, to say the least, somewhat limited, the Deputy has undoubtedly got it right on this one, and is more in tune with the mood of an anxious and frustrated public than his opponents. As he says when he advocates -
“……the norm becoming that those young people who choose to engage in vicious attacks that go as far as to put another’s very life at risk can expect to see their identity held up for all the community to see. Government simply must show itself to be in charge and finally act. The public expect no less.”,
this is -
“……an issue wholly side-stepped by the authorities who should have been seeking answers to the problem…”.
Remember, if you’re 16, then you’re old enough to have a motorcycle licence. Old enough to get married. Old enough to leave school and get a job. Old enough to join the Forces. Old enough to vote. You are not a child, whatever the legal definition.
The Pitman/Shenton proposals and amendments in tandem do not mean hanging children of 10 for sheep-stealing, although from some of the comments made, you could be forgiven for thinking they do. They would mean merely removing the restriction on naming, and the protection of anonymity, in cases of conviction for serious assault, murder, manslaughter, rape, or robbery, where the offender was aged 16 or over. That is an eminently sensible compromise, and all States Members should support it.
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1 comment:

Mike Freeman said...

Thank you so much for your blog .
To paraphrase the great Flann O'Brian :
"it is always reassuring to know that of all nincompoops one is not perhaps the greatest"