Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Yesterday, James Delingpole wrote:
The law-abiding public are angry, of that there’s no doubt; and what’s clear is that they don’t want the thugs and agitators responsible for last week’s outrages let off the hook. But when they want tough sentencing, they want it for people like the thugs who steamed into the Ledbury restaurant and robbed the diners at knifepoint; the kind who burned down the Reeves store in Croydon; who mowed down those three young men in Birmingham. Not for people like the student who opportunistically helped himself for £3.50 of bottled water as he passed a looted store and ended up being sentenced to 18 months in prison. Not only is that sentence going to ruin a man’s life and cost the taxpayer at least £40,000 in valuable jail space but it creates the disconcerting impression that our justice system is arbitrary, cruel and out of touch.
And though I don't condone theft even of a bottle of water, it is indeed absurd that it should receive a harsher sentence during the 'riots' than at any other time.

Today, via DK, I discovered an excellent post from Bella Gerens:

From the Telegraph via Tim Worstall:

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were jailed for four years each for inciting the disorder on Facebook despite both being of previous good character.

From the same Telegraph article:

A fourth defendant, Linda Boyd, 31, who has 62 previous convictions, was given a 10 month jail term suspended for two years after she was caught trying to drag away a £500 haul of alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco.

I’m not sure I need to make this comment, but: what kind of justice is this when two people of previous good character receive lengthy custodial sentences for making remarks on Facebook, but a third person who has a long, long history of criminal behaviour is given a suspended sentence for being caught with stolen goods?

I understand that these were different courts with different judges in different regional jurisdictions, but there still seems to be a massive disparity in the interpretation of sentencing guidelines here.

She concludes:

It is outrageous that remarks on Facebook merit a longer, harsher jail sentence than some rapes and murders, let alone theft and looting.

But what is really outrageous is that making remarks on Facebook can be criminalised at all. Perhaps Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan can band together with Paul Chambers and his supporters to help stamp out this fascist British tendency toward criminalisation of speech.


To my admittedly prejudiced eye, Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan do look like a couple of thugs.

Perhaps they're guilty of many crimes for which they have not been convicted. But the crime for which they've actually been convicted shouldn't exist at all.

I'm reminded of a characteristically eloquent post by Tom Paine from February 2009: Should "egging on" be a crime?.

Now it seems you don't even need to be physically present to be held liable for the actions of others. We live in dark times.


  1. I cannot fathom the decision to hand down a suspended sentence to Linda Boyd (there must have been mitigating factors).

    However, I think there should be a line over which "freedom of speech" is constrained.

    Put another way, I do not believe that people have a right to say whatever they choose, consequences be damned.

    Whilst there is a right to express oneself freely, that is constrained by a moral duty to do so reasonably and without the detriment to society (or a section thereof) as a whole.

    To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. people do not have a right to shout fire in a crowded theatre.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Andy.

    As long as the right to express oneself freely is only constrained by a *moral* duty to behave reasonably, I fully agree. It's where there's also a legal duty that things get problematic.

    I can imagine some very specific circumstances where it might be reasonable to hold people responsible for incitement to violence. For example, if a preacher whipped an angry mob of religious fanatics into a frenzy and commanded them to attack some other group that was immediately present. Even there, it is those who actually commit the violence that deserve a much harsher punishment, and it is partially the legal practicalities (the difficulties in apprehending members of the mob) that make it attractive to crack down on the preacher.

    There is also an argument that these mob members were brain washed or hypnotised, with the preacher acting as puppet master. But culpability in these circumstances is a difficult question. I think we must hold the frenzied thugs responsible, just as we (should) hold drunken thugs responsible (they chose to put themselves in that situation; they could have stayed well clear of trouble). But I can see some sense in also holding the preacher to account.

    The "Oliver Wendell Holmes" example is of course the classic, but I think Tom Sutcliffe dealt with this well in an article I linked to in September 2010 (in the context of the Koran-burning controversy):

    I found myself wondering about Holmes's remark in the light of the weekend's cliffhanger – and in particular the fact that his phrase presumes that the occupants of the theatre have no responsibility to protect themselves from a fatal panic. After all there are a number of ways you can react to a shout of "Fire" in the theatre. You can check for yourself whether it seems to be true before you bolt for the door. And even if you decide to err on the side of caution, you can get up and make your way in an orderly fashion to an exit. But if you decide, immediately, to knock your neighbour to the ground and trample over his face to get to the fire-door you could surely be regarded as having contributed to the catastrophe rather than simply having been a victim of it. Within reasonable limits we have a civic duty not to lose our heads when idiots decide to shout "Fire".

    Wherever you or I might draw the line, I hope we can agree that we've already gone too far down the slippery slope. To encourage theft and vandalism on Facebook does not warrant a harsher sentence than actual theft or vandalism!

    In the case of Linda Boyd, it is hard to imagine mitigating factors for all of her 62 previous convictions. She's a long way past "three strikes and you're out".

  3. Meant to include a link ...