Not Saussure

September 30, 2006

Something fishy at the Home Office?

Filed under: Law, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 1:12 pm

The BBC report that, unsurprisingly, John Reid has resiled from the proposal leaked yesterday to impose on-the-spot fines for offences including

assault, threatening behaviour, theft up to the value of £100 and assaulting a police officer.

But the Home Office said the idea had not been put to ministers, and that Mr Reid would never allow a reduction in punishments for violent criminals.

A spokesman said: “Ministers have not been consulted about these proposals. Most of the suggestions come from police chiefs.

“The home secretary will never approve any lessening of punishments for violent crime.”

However, this has left me wondering why someone put out these proposals for consultation in the first place, knowing — as he must have — the sort of reaction they’d get. What’s the point of asking the Magistrates’ Association about proposals to hand out fixed penalty notices for theft and assault when the Department for Constitutional Affairs have put out a consultation document in July on Delivering Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice that says, à propos fixed-penalty notices for certain offences,

In a consultation exercise in late 2004 and early 2005, magistrates told us that television licensing and summary motoring offences took up a disproportionate amount of court time and resource – see key facts below. Such cases, where there are no victims or public safety issues, need not be dealt with using the same process as offences such as burglary or assault.

Would it not be obvious what their worships’ reaction was going to be, let alone anyone else’s?

Magistrates’ Association chairman Cindy Barnett told the Times such proposals would undermine the gravity of serious offences.

She said: “These are crimes that involve victims, and sometimes violence, and some of them are at the top end of what government research has shown the public regard as serious.

“They should not be dealt with by penalty notice. What kind of message does this send out?”

I’m also slightly puzzled about the notion of leaking proposals about a clearly public matter such as the administration of justice that are put out for consultation.

In short, someone’s drawn up a list of highly contentious proposals that never had a chance of being accepted and made sure they gained maximum publicity. Was this someone in the Home Office trying to embarrass Dr Reid, or was it — more deviously — an opportunity for Home Secretary to gain brownie points by very publicly shooting down a daft idea that was guaranteed to upset just about everyone, from those concerned about law and order to those concerned about civil liberties (or those, like me, who are concerned about both)?


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