I've already bigged up this book, available from Amazon at a bargain £11.87, in this post.
Now the Dalrymple review.
"All in all, Fraser’s book is a searing and unanswerable (or at least so far unanswered) indictment of the British criminal-justice system, and therefore of the British state. As Fraser pointed out to me, the failure of the state to protect the lives and property of its citizens, and to take seriously its duty in this regard, creates a politically dangerous situation, for it puts the very legitimacy of the state itself at risk. The potential consequences are incalculable, for the failure might bring the rule of law itself into disrepute and give an opportunity to the brutal and the authoritarian."
The point about the legitimacy of the state is an important one. Listening to a BBC (it could have been Radios 4 or 5, the politics will be the same) piece on a UK version of Megan's Law, the studio consensus was that it would lead to attacks on, and possibly the murder of, named offenders.
No-one seemed to have grasped the enormity of what they were saying. The implications of such a statement are either
a) the disconnection between the appropriate punishment as seen by judges and as seen by the public is so great that such attacks are likely. This should perhaps have caused some soul-searching as to whether the current punishments are appropriate. After all, one of the unique selling points of a functional criminal justice system is that, by inflicting punishments which are generally felt to be appropriate, vendetta and vigilantism are avoided.
If this thesis is accepted (and it seemed to be by the studio guests), the logical thing would seem to be to increase the punishments. But we're much too sophisticated for such simplicities. No, the real villains are the tabloid press, whipping the clod-like populace into homicidal frenzies in the style of Radio Rwanda.
b) the posited vigilante attacks would be the work of a miniscule minority of sick people, with no public support. And law and order in 2006 is such that this tiny, unsupported minority will be able to successfully carry out those attacks.