in Community Safety, Politics

Tough on crime, sensitive to the data protection and human rights of criminals

“It is vital people know that criminals will not escape the consequences of their crimes.” Is the hard hitting and no-nonsense conclusion from Justice Secretary Jack Straw to a BBC report on naming and shaming.

The article follows publication of government guidance, with Mr Straw telling us it “explains, once and for all, that authorities can publish the details of crimes and the punishments criminals have received, and that the government actively encourages them to do so.”

Unfortunately, the entire article before the Justice Secretary’s comments is little more than a list of reasons why such details shouldn’t be published!

Authorities may want to consider if publication would have an “adverse effect” on the criminal and whether it is “proportionate” to make verdicts and sentences public. After all, we wouldn’t want a criminal justice system to be too transparent, would we?

It might be we don’t want to use the Internet at all, and there’s a suggestion that just making an announcement or handing out a leaflet at a public meeting would be enough. Imagine the danger of someone being able to find out about such things via Google! No, having identified that there’s a problem with people not knowing about successful outcomes to criminal cases we can address that at poorly attended public meetings.

And if we must use the internet then we should be sure to delete the information after a month. Data Protection, you see.

I run the risk of sounding like the Daily Mail here, whereas the fact is that I have become, over the years, more and more liberal on these things. The criminal justice system is there to punish, but it is also there to rehabilitate. And it can’t rehabilitate if Google catalogues every sin an individual has committed for people to find years or decades after they’ve become a reformed character.

But name and shame has its place. I find it bizarre, for example, that occasionally courts grant an ASBO banning someone from an area, but restrict publicity so we can’t advertise the fact.

Instead of trying to address the very real issues here – like when publicity is appropriate or how we balance the desire to see justice done against the need for meaningful rehabilitation – we have hardline soudbites from Jack Straw, backed up by watery proposals from his department. Reading through them you might draw the conclusion that the government is more interested in the human rights of offenders than of the communities they offend against.

We need to have a sensible look at how we deliver justice and how we can be seen to deliver justice. You don’t do that by saying one thing and doing another.

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