Thursday, 13 December 2012

What price life? About two thirds that of a Mark Rothko painting

A while ago I posted on a blog not far away from here about the law being an ass. There was much, more more I could have said. There were many more examples I could have given. And there are new ones being added all the time.

Today, two more people have been jailed. (I'm sure there are others too, but these are the ones I've noticed). One received a two year sentence; the other, three-and-a-half years. Their crimes? On the one hand, defacing an oil painting. (And not a very good one, if you ask me.) On the other, causing death while texting at the wheel of a car.

Do they compare? Hardly. But that really doesn't seem to matter. What still seems to matter to our lovely, fair and equal English law is property. Not people. I wish Morrissey would get hot under the collar about this sort of thing instead of slagging of Kate Middleton.


And that's not all.

We pride ourselves in Britain on having a fair and open judicial process. We like to think we do it better than some other countries. And, while that may be true, there's much about our adversarial system that leads to unsafe convictions, wrong judgements and false verdicts. But why? Well, part of the reason is the people responsible for it - the barristers, solicitors, judges, magistrates and others.

But don't take my word for it. I'm no expert. But someone who is - someone whose father was one of the most famous libel lawyers in the business, who secured (among other things) huge damages from The Sun when it accused Elton John of being gay (er, he is) and may even have ensured that Jimmy Savile escaped censure in his lifetime - writes tellingly about his father's role in keeping scandals like Robert Maxwell's missing millions out of the papers and securing controversial acquittals like that of ex-Coronation Street actor Len Fairclough.

Then there's the Police. I'll get round to the police in another post. For now, it's sufficient to say that they do a dirty and difficult job and it's hardly surprising, sometimes, tempers fray. That doesn't excuse recklessly tasering blind people or shoving protesters so hard they don't get up again but it might help our understanding of it. I wouldn't like their job. Would you?

All in all, I think we could do with a little more humility - and a lot less theatricality - in our legal comings and goings, and a little less of the aggressive cross-examination ('answer the question, yes or no') of frightened witnesses. And some recognition that the system is broke, and needs fixing. The innocent are jailed and the guilty go free. And justice is not done for anybody.