The Meaning of Justice

01Aug10

This government has gone to war with Labour’s so-called big-brother state. They’ve scrapped ID cards, they’ve placed tighter restrictions on CCTV, there’s a whole new set of restrictions on the keeping of DNA. Welcome to the era of civil liberties. Now, I’m not going to argue the toss for these initiatives – that isn’t the point here. What I’m going to argue the point for is consistency.

Megan’s Law came into effect in 1994 in New Jersey, after the murder of Megan Kanka by a registered sex offender who had lived across the road from her, with two other sex offenders, for several years. Megan’s Law is a requirement of sex offenders to register, to notify government of any change of address, no chance of parole on reoffense, and, most importantly, the ability to notify communities when a sex offender moved into their area.

Crimes which constitute as a “sex offense” : paedophilia. kaedophilia. incest. rape. statutory rape. sexual assault. grooming. indecent exposure.

This is by no means a complete list, but it highlights the point I want to make; if a drunk lad urinates in the street and someone sees him, suddenly, according to Louisa County Sheriff’s Department, he’s a paedophile (and isn’t permitted to live within the city limits). Now, not that I’m condoning public urination, but surely we understand the difference between the two..?

As history has demonstrated, clearly not. In 2001, a paediatrician in Gwent came home to find the word PAEDO crudely graffittied across her door by someone who had evidently only read five letters before letting their brain finish the word and gone on a course of vigilante action. She moved to a different part of the country shortly after.

Sarah’s Law, named after Sarah Payne who was abducted and murdered by a registered sex offender when she was eight years old, is a law which parallels Megan’s Law and is due to be expanded in the UK by Spring 2011. Under Sarah’s law, parents would have a right to know of any sex offenders who have any access to their children – which includes people living on the same streets as them. What Sarah’s Law seems to fail to outline is what sort of offence was committed by the offender who you suddenly know the details of; and due to the nature of the law, the automatic assumption is that all those people who have done something stupid whilst drunk are suddenly child rapists.

I should probably point out at this stage that I am in no way condoning any action that gets someone onto the sex offenders register. What I am saying is that you can’t assume just because someone is on the register, they want to molest your children. Even people convicted of paedophilia very often complete their sentences and never reoffend – only 2.5% of all people on the sex offenders register reoffend after release, and reoffence in this context also covers missing a sign-on or a parole meeting. Perhaps the greatest thing that is removed from those on the register by Sarah’s Law is the right to redemption.

A 2008 legislation analysis of Megan’s Law (“Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy”) found that (to cut a long paper short) it had literally no effect on reoffence or new crimes committed. It was considered, by the paper, a waste of money to implement and to maintain.

Where the Government seeks to promote civil liberties in one area, it simply seeks to compromise them in another. The right to privacy is a hugely promoted ideal by both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat party. Surely they can see that this is the ultimate compromising of privacy? Just because someone has a conviction does not stop them being a human being.

This brings me rather nicely onto my next topic of discussion. My brother is in prison for petty crime. A repetitive shoplifter, he was finally caught and given 3 months imprisonment. Whilst my brother is in prison, his throat is slashed by another prisoner with the razorblade and my brother is permanently scarred. After recovery, he decides that he wants to sue the prison service for damages, because they have not met his requirement for care and have placed him in a position which endangered his life and he should have been protected from. Is he wrong to do so? Of course he isn’t.

So why is Ian Huntley?

I’m going to play a rather unpopular card here (as Sally Bercow was so brave to do on Twitter in response to this news story) and remind the general populus that Ian Huntley is still a human being. If this had been a prisoner number, rather than a name, there would not be the level of public outrage that is currently prevailing. Ian Huntley, of course, creates a strong reaction in everyone; I can appreciate that. But the fact that he should have to live – even in prison – in constant fear for his life, is sickening. What’s more sickening is our “empowering” Government saying they are going to resist his appeal at every turn – not because he’s wrong to be appealing, but because he’s Ian Huntley, and therefore is of course sub-human.

Huntley committed a heinous crime, and he will probably spend the rest of his days in prison – as well he should. But that’s for the justice system to decide, not the other prisoners who have also committed crimes and are by no means prize pigs themselves. We are a liberal, respectable country, and as such we treat all human beings with dignity and respect. Just because he has not proved himself to be respectable in that manner does not mean we have to degrade ourselves to his level.

I am afraid, Iain Dale, you’re wrong again. How surprising.

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