Friday, February 13, 2009

Base Metal

The formerly excellent Policeman's Blog has, since its founder decamped to Canada, unfortunately started to slip into the chippy and negative mindset of too many other police blogs. Here's a recent quote:-
A few posts back, we highlighted the sickening caustic soda gang rape case - in which the attackers smirked their way through court and ended up getting pathetic sentences.
Gadget's always banging on about the softness of sentencing, and Bystander (he's a magistrate) usually posts some (I'm sure well-meaning) comment on there about how it's not down to the courts, it's unprofessional of a senior(ish) copper to moan etc etc.
But it is down to the courts, isn't it?

So here's a couple of points:-
I too have reservations about the sentences in the case that is referred to (although the 'smirking' is a reference to tabloid reports: some defendants show bravado, and some grin through the rictus effect of fear. Either way, it's irrelevant). That case is way above my place in the judiciary, so my opinion is not particularly important. What does matter is that the case is to be referred to the Court of Appeal who will, if necessary, amend the sentences. That's the system working as it is meant to work.
I occasionally (not usually - perhaps four or five posts in two years) comment on Gadget's blog because I am disturbed that an officer of Inspector rank seems to have so little understanding of the proper interaction between the police and the judiciary. Gadget has in the past allowed some intemperate comments (in particular on the Coffill case) that appeared to condone summary mob justice administered by police officers. Fortunately those posts were removed as feelings evidently cooled.
And no, it isn't down to the courts, is it? Sentencers do their job within a web of guidelines, precedents and case law. We don't just rummage in the box for a sentence with the defendant's name on it; we follow a carefully devised structure to set the case in its proper context. I am not insulted by the apparent contempt in which I am evidently held by many police officers, because I am comfortable that I understand and apply the rules. I am unhappy though, that some front-line officers allow their frustrations to boil over into a thirst for vengeance and a contempt for the public they are there to serve and the judicial system that is there to see justice done. That's unhealthy.

Later:- By the way - what happened here then?

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