Monday, 15 August 2011

Minor distinctions

To give Bill Bratton his due, he has tried without success to explain the differences between the 'zero tolerance' and 'broken windows' policies; zero tolerance, he says, was his policy towards police corruption, not street nuisance. It occurs to me that the only ears that might have noticed the distinction are our police bosses, themselves mired in an endemic and institutional corruption; it would at least explain their opposition to Bratton's involvement in sorting-out the mess that policing has become. 


However, if we're to move on constructively, we need to get some basics clear first. I take issue this morning with a sentence in an otherwise sensible Telegraph leader;
Maintaining social order and stability is the primary function of government.
Well, it's the primary function of government to ensure a national framework of civil and criminal law and maintain an equitable system for the administration of justice, but is it really the primary function of the State to maintain social order and stability? Isn't half the problem that we've abnegated this role to the State, but the State alone has neither the resources nor the capability to fulfil it? I think this leader writer should rather have said "Maintaining social order and stability is the function of a healthy society" - that within a framework of law maintained at national level, a variety and diversity of actors and intermediate institutions implements compliance.  


Finally, the distinction between the offences of 'riot' and 'violent disorder'. Following the Bradford Riots of 2001, 137 people were charged with the offence of riot and close to 100 convicted, with the average sentence being 4 to 6 years. So far I don't know of a single charge of riot made as a result of last week's disturbances - most have been for the offence of violent disorder, an offence with a lower standard of proof and a more lenient sentence. Perhaps it was the nature of the outbreak - termed 'shopping with violence' by one commentator, as opposed to an explosion of righteous anger - that defines it as falling short of a riot. And the point has also been made that if the disturbances were really about unemployment, poverty and lack of work opportunities, why were there not more 'resting' actors among those arrested? 

8 comments:

Greg Tingey said...

"Riot" requires (either - I can't remember which) 12 or 14 persons to be "Acting together".
Which is more difficult to prove than "Violent Disorder".

However - IF you have convicted, say 20 people of the same VD (oops!), including say, teft.
THEN you CAN go back and charge them with Riot.
And it's not "Double Jeopardy" since it's a different crime.
Time will tell.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"...an offence with a lower standard of proof..."

Huh?

ianal, but surely any criminal offence requires proof "beyond reasonable doubt" before conviction?

Or did Tony Blair slip in some other arbitrary police-state-type exemption that I failed to notice at the time?

Raedwald said...

WY - it's technical; for VD you only need to prove 3 people were acting together, for riot it's 12and you need to prove 'common purpose'. Or something. Lawyers please advise.

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Gallovidian said...

Wouldn't be surprised if common purpose were involved in some way.

Chuckles said...

I'd prefer it if they forgot all about social order and stability being the primary function, and remembered about protecting persons and property from harm.

On the riot/violent disorder side, common purpose can be inferred from conduct, so it's not necessary to 'prove' it explicitly.
The differences between the 2 appear to be -
number of persons - 3 or more vs 12.
Type of offence - either way vs indictable only.
max sentence - 6mths/5years vs 10years.

Being a nasty old cynic, I would say that not charging someone with riot would allow them to weasel out of the Police/Local Authority requirement to pay compensation for damage, as it's 'not a riot'.

Barnacle Bill said...

I would have added:
"- that within a framework of law maintained and enforced consistently at a national level,"

Mr. Chuckles the very same cynical thought passed thru my nasty mind!

Wildgoose said...

Excellent point Mr Chuckles, I'd missed that aspect.

Which of course means that the victims then pay through higher insurance premiums, (if they even have the appropriate insurance that is).