Posts Tagged ‘justice’

By all means let’s be tough on crime, but let’s also be principled

04/11/2011, 01:00:40 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

During my years working on prisons policy, I used to think that if the government was being attacked at the same time from left and right, that wasn’t a bad place to be (at least if we were being attacked from the right for being too soft, and the left for being too hard, rather than from both for being incompetent). When I see the new government finding itself increasingly in this predicament – attacked from the right wing media, former home secretary Michael Howard and Conservative backbenchers for being too soft, and from the Guardian and the left for being too hard – I am instinctively inclined to sympathy.

Where does Labour stand? When the sentencing bill was first published in June, Labour was very critical – and justifiably so. This was the Cameron government at its worst: the familiar pattern of early nonchalance, followed by last-minute panic, with a hasty, botched result. Not for the first time the mess was covered up by a bravura performance from David Cameron, good enough to fool the media on the day, but merely delaying the unravelling – as some of us predicted at the time.

In contrast to this, last week’s final changes to the sentencing bill looked like government, if not at its best, then certainly in decent working order. A substantial disagreement between two ministers, May and Clarke, each with a legitimate stake in the policy, was carefully brokered by Downing Street into a coherent and balanced package. Media coverage predictably focused on the Cabinet “split” and the “humiliation” of Clarke, who was seen as the loser – gleefully by the right wing media, sorrowfully by the left. In fact, this was a genuine compromise. Clarke lost some battles, but won others, more than his disillusioned liberal friends gave him credit for. He successfully defended the distinction between adult and youth sentencing for knife crime, even if at a lower cut-off age, and insisted that new mandatory life sentences for second convictions for the most serious violent and sexual offences – the so-called “two strikes and you’re out” sentences – would be very tightly defined. The main reason Clarke was seen as the loser was because he was so unguarded about his bargaining position; in other words, because he showed the kind of honesty the media say they want from politicians, but tend to punish when they get it.


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Justice is a living thing: not something set out in a book

19/10/2011, 07:49:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor, recently called the Mormonism of Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, “a cult”. In contrast, Jeffress endorsed Rick Perry, one of Romney’s rivals, as a “real Christian”.

Similarly, fears about a Catholic president were traded upon during John F. Kennedy’s White House run. As religion is a private matter, he retaliated; his religion would have no bearing on his presidential conduct. The philosopher Michael Sandel argues that Kennedy’s response was more than tactical.

“It reflected a public philosophy that would come to full expression during the 1960s and 70s – a philosophy that held that government should be neutral on moral and religious questions, so that each individual could be free to choose his or her own conception of the good life”.

This neutrality was central to John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Forty years on from its publication this remains one of the dominant texts in Anglo-American liberal philosophy. Tony Crosland conceded, shortly before his death in 1977, that the notion of equality advocated by Rawls was the same as that advanced in The Future of Socialism.

The first series of The Hour (a BBC attempt to go HBO about a BBC news show) opened a window on an ancient world. This series was set in the same year, 1956, as The Future of Socialism was published. Yet this book remains an integral part of any Labour thinker’s bookshelf. Given this centrality and the claimed agreement between Crosland and Rawls, it is curious that the communitarian critique of Rawls, led by Sandel, has made minimal impact on Labour thinking. (more…)

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent

25/08/2011, 01:30:24 PM

by Dan Hodges

Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn on trial for rape? Or was he on trial for being a banker?

I ask that question because on Tuesday he was declared innocent of all charges, and freed. At least, I thought he’d been declared innocent. That was the story I read in the news reports. But the commentary that followed told a different tale.

In a nutshell: he did it. Forget the evidence. Or lack of it. Forget the fact that the case was so flimsy it never even got within a hundred miles of a jury. Forget ludicrously outdated concepts like presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. The guy’s a rapist. And he got away scott-free.

“What occurred in room 2806 will never be known”, wrote Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, before adding, “What has been proved, on an international scale, is that only women who have led lives as sheltered as Rapunzel and have memory recall as robotic as computers are capable of being raped. The rest are money-grabbing sluts with vaginal bruising”. (more…)

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