Monday, November 19, 2007

Two Early Release Killers and an Early Release Lord Chief Justice

In reverse order of dangerousness, John Campbell, Richard Hanson, and Lord Chief Justice Phillips of Worth Matravers.

Campbell, 34, was serving an eight-year sentence for two offences of assault to severe injury and permanent disfigurement when he was granted unsupervised leave. He was initially placed on a high supervision level when he was sentenced in August 2002. But his supervision level was wrongly reduced to medium at Kilmarnock prison within 12 months of his sentencing. At a review in December 2004, Campbell's supervision level was again wrongly reduced to low, making him eligible for unsupervised home leave when he was transferred to Castle Huntly.

Sentenced to eight years in 2002. Two years later he's tranferred to Scotland's legendary comedy "prison", Castle Huntly. He's given "home leave" in 2005, three years into an "eight" year sentence, takes it and kills Catherine Thomson a day later.

The court was told that Richard Hanson, who has an IQ of 78, had suffered from disturbed behaviour since the age of three, when it was reported that he kicked a teacher and set fire to a bed. He has numerous previous convictions and was most recently sentenced to 18 weeks' imprisonment on July 3 last year for offences of resisting or obstructing a person assisting a constable, shoplifting and driving while disqualified. He was released on September 8, just under two weeks before the attack.

Kicked "a teacher" at the age of three ? What was he doing with a teacher at that age ? I know not, but his release seven weeks into an eighteen week sentence killed Gemma Roberts. Hanson cut her throat in the street as she walked past in a random and motiveless attack. He did it because he could.

If he had "numerous previous convictions", why exactly did the Probation "Service" think he was fit to be released less than half way through his latest sentence ?

The most depressing bit of this depressing saga is the sentence. The poor chap's ill, you see. Unlike Gemma Roberts.

Setting a minimum period in custody of two years 320 days, Judge Collier said he would be subject to a licence for the rest of his life.

Less than three years for cutting a girl's throat in the street. Can't say Judge Collier's not got a sense of humour, even if it is rather sick. As for this "on licence", "may never be released" nagombi, Hanson was on license when he killed. Some social worker will certify he's free to go - as likely as not within five years. Especially if the prisons are full.

Which brings us on to the biggest danger to society of them all - Lord Chief Justice "The Jails Are Full" Phillips of Bryanston, Cambridge and Worth Matravers.

Top judge attacks sentencing laws

Prison overcrowding is at a critical level because of the government's sentencing policy, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has said.

Damning judgment

Most pressing of all is the matter of physical capacity - the overstretched system is in a permanent scramble for cells, with hundreds of prisoners each night being dumped in police stations. Lord Phillips was blunt: "We simply cannot go on like this." And there is little doubt that some mix of early release and new prison building will be needed simply to relieve the immediate strain.

But the Lord Chief Justice also raised a second, more strategic, question - how many prisons will society pay for?

Prison overcrowding is at critical stage, says Lord Chief Justice

Britain’s most senior judge has given warning that the shortage of prison spaces was now “critical” as a result of ministers’ failure to take account of the cost implications of their sentencing policies.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, said that the present prison overcrowding could not continue. And he delivered a stark message to ministers — either they should fund the sentences that judges impose or change the sentencing framework that requires them, often, to jail offenders.

“We are in a critical situation,” he said. “The prisons are full to capacity.” Prisoners who went to court did not know if they would return to the same cell or even the same prison. Cells designed for one were being used for two and prisons were being forced, literally, to close their doors to more admissions. “Prisoners are being driven around for hours on end in a desperate search for a prison that can squeeze them in,” he added. “As often or not 200 or 300 are spending the night in police or court cells. We simply cannot go on like this.”

He said that Parliament had not been prepared to leave it to judges to decide if an offence merited imprisonment and, if so, for how long. Instead, it had set down how the seriousness of an offence should be judged, as well as starting points for minimum terms to be served for murder in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

My problem with Judge Let'emout is that he's supposed to be the head of the judiciary - the people who interpret the law and pass judgement. Whether there are enough prison places should not be part of their calculations. It's not their problem. That issue, as even the Guardian recognises, belongs on the plate of the politicians. By poking his learned proboscis in, this unelected judge is using his position in the (nominally independent) judiciary to become a politician himself.

You can understand why he's shouting. What he says is quite true (discounting the anti-prison spin).

“Unless Parliament is prepared to provide whatever resources are necessary to give effect to the sentences that judges choose, in their discretion, to impose, Parliament must re-examine the legislative framework for sentencing.”

True. Send less people down (or shorter sentences) or cough up for new prisons. But it's not his place to say it. He should have been saying it in private, behind the scenes, to Home Office (or whatver it's called this week) ministers.

Maybe he did. And maybe they gave him carte blanche to campaign publicly with the Howard League for more community sentencing and less imprisonment, which is in fact what he's doing. He should have clammed up. Instead his (self-perceived) duty seems to be to follow his inclinations. He's bringing our pro-criminal, out of touch judiciary into even greater disrepute than they currently enjoy.

I'll leave with one more thought of the bewigged buffoon.

"“If you decide to lock up one man for a minimum term of 30 years, you are investing £1 million or more in punishing him.

“That sum could pay for quite a few surgical operations or for a lot of remedial training ..."

Nice of him to think about the poor taxpayer. I've got a better - and cheaper - idea. What kind of prisoners do thirty years these days ? You'd have to be a multiple child-killer to get that sort of sentence. Couldn't we go back to the future - and save that million ?

"My tools are but common ones,
Simple shepherds all,
My tools are no sight to see:
A little hempen string,
And a post whereon to swing,
Are implements enough for me !"