This is the official blog of Sgt Ellie Bloggs, a real live police sergeant on the front line of England. It's not the official opinion of my police force, but all the facts I recount are true, and are not secrets. If they don't want me blogging about it, they shouldn't do it. PS If you don't pay tax, you don't pay my salary.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unappealing Justice

The papers almost proudly announce today how 7 out of 10 defendants failed to get a reduction to their sentences for offences relating to the August riots.  Although The Guardian manages to sling in a few quotes from Human Rights lobbyists, the tone in the general media suggests support for the tough sentences.  Tough, that is, by British standards.  

Nowhere in the article does it express astonishment that as high as 30% of the cases before the appeal court resulted in the halving of sentences given out.  I have no doubt that the statistic for cases unconnected with rioting is far higher.

Meanwhile, the case of Dale Farm toils on.  Back in September, dozens of police officers were paid overtime all over the country to travel to Essex and await the go-ahead for the forced eviction of the Dale Farm travellers.  Only for a last minute appeal to be awarded and splashed all over the headlines.  A week or so later, dozens more officers travelled back, and forth, and back, and forth again, as the seemingly unending legal battle unfolded.  Now we are told that the Council will actually begin the eviction, how many more police hours will be wasted when yet another final hour document is submitted for the court's consideration?


 "Ooh, isn't this legal system SUCH fun?"
"To be sure."





Most police officers are well aware that injustices occur in court, usually Magistrates'.  And usually the injustice is the acquittal of a guilty party.  When the opposite occurs, it is obviously vital for there to be some form of appeal system, to combat the days when the trial judge or jury got up on the wrong side of the bed.

But nowadays we are seeing more and more a neverending showdown as defendants and prosecutors parade before higher and higher levels of court until they get a decision they are happy with.

The most depressing part of the whole system is that the actual victims of crime have no right to appeal any decision whatsoever.  If you have sat and watched your rapist, or your relative's murderer, walk free from court, knowing without a doubt of their guilt due to evidence that was disallowed, or not believed, you cannot even tell the press you still think they're guilty without the risk of being sued for libel.  

I experienced the impotence of victim-hood some years ago, when my witness care officer phoned me up in a panic one day asking why I wasn't in court to give evidence against the man who assaulted me during an arrest the year before.

My reply: "Er, because I fly back from the Canary Islands tonight, and the case is tomorrow."

"I thought so - we warned you for the wrong date.  The case is now, and it's about to be thrown out."

When I got back, I wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service asking for an explanation as to how this mistake had happened when every other witness had been warned correctly, and why the case had been thrown out when I had not avoided court deliberately - especially gutting given that on two previous occasions the defendant had failed to show up because he simply "forgot" and had been given not one but two further chances.  I suggested perhaps the CPS could have appealed the decision to abandon the charge of assault police.

I did receive a reply letter, four months later.  I put it in the bin without reading it, but I can guarantee that the words "public interest" and "unlikely to succeed" were present.

After the best part of a decade in contact with the Criminal Justice System, I am now hardened to such experiences.  But your average victim is not.  They are merely distant spectators of a most unappealing sport, in which they have no idea of the winner even after the whistle has been blown.



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'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

Good post Bloggsy. Court is one of those great rumbling beasts which grinds along on tracks, oblivious to outside opinion and impossible to change. As you so rightly say, we become hardened to it, but I'm not sure how civvies cope.

18 October, 2011 21:31

 
Anonymous Tanked said...

"...And usually the injustice is the acquittal of a guilty party. ..."

You obviously subscribe fully to the juridical process then, WPC Bloggs?

If he is acquitted, then he is not guilty, no?

You are not really a hypocrite, are you Bloggsy?

18 October, 2011 22:10

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tanked said...

"If he is acquitted, then he is not guilty, no?"

Not necessarily, no. If someone assaults you, and you know they've done it (as you would, being the victim), yet they get acquitted, does that now mean they've done nothing wrong? No it doesn't.

And to say guilty people don't get away with what they've done in court is naive.

18 October, 2011 23:54

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*"don't ever get away with what they've done", that is.

18 October, 2011 23:55

 
Anonymous Tulip Wednesday said...

Then again, we could adopt one of the medieval middle eastern methods of police arrest. Put a prisoner in jail, for five or ten years before even considering a trial, then stone to death the alleged rape victim!

Police officers uphold the law, not decide who is, and who is not guilty, or innocent. If you don't like the way the courts work, there are avenues to file your grievance. Our system may not be perfect for you Ellie, but it's better than the alternatives beating asked for by some residents of the country.

19 October, 2011 10:43

 
Blogger DJ said...

Whilst I have a lot of respect for your blog, you should sit in a mags court for a week and see first hand the litany of appalling lack of administration and evidence that comes from the police on a daily basis. Whilst I don't doubt that it is the police bureaucracy that contributes to the mess, it is no wonder that guilty people get acquitted sometimes.

19 October, 2011 11:29

 
Anonymous Cabbage said...

Great post. From talking to my friends about criminal punishment in the past, I wonder if part of the problem is that many (intelligent educated middle class) people don't regard criminal punishment as something that is done for the sake of the victim(s) of the original crime, but purely as something done for the sake of deterrence/rehabilitation/containment.

The concept that victims directly benefit from seeing those who have done them wrong punished is a concept that doesn't seem to ever get raised nowadays in discussions about criminal punishment. Yet surely (as most people instinctively know) there is a huge emotional benefit to seeing your attackers (or robbers, fraudsters, etc) punished. The urge to take revenge when wronged is a basic human response. I suspect most people can deal with getting beaten up, or burgled, or having their cars nicked - maybe even with getting raped, I dunno - without it having much impact on their life and happiness. What is much more distressing and damaging is to have those things done to you with impunity, and to know that you are helpless and, as you put it, impotent, in the face of being victimised.

Yet for some reason none of the discussion or debate I see about criminal punishment, in the media or in the blogosphere, ever addresses the impact that punishment of criminals has on victims.

I raised this idea in the pub a few weeks back with a friend (who is a lefty liberal, even by student standards). He replied that any emotional impact that punishment of criminals might have on victims is irrational on the victims' part, since the sentencing of the offender after the offence has been committed doesn't have any material effect on the rest of the victim's life, and that sentencing therefore shouldn't be influenced by concern for its impact on the victim's irrational feelings. I suspect this would be a fairly common retort.

But it seems obvious to me, as it plainly is to you, that victims' feelings (which are, admittedly and pretty much by definition, irrational or at least non-rational) are something that the criminal justice system ought to be, and in some ways is, concerned with. After all, if protecting people's feelings wasn't in any way the business of the CJS, why would it even be right for rape (without causing infection, injury or pregnancy) to be a crime?

Anyway, sorry for the huge ramble.

19 October, 2011 11:35

 
Blogger DSS said...

Of course, we're all paying for all of this...

19 October, 2011 21:32

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 'to be sure' comment. Nice one.

19 October, 2011 21:40

 
Anonymous R/T said...

Ellie - remember Fran Croucher in Kent? Just read that she's NG of making up the assault. Remember that you were first to blog when she had been viciously assaulted. Interesting.

19 October, 2011 22:15

 
Anonymous life Observer. said...

With so many assaults, each year, it must be easy to see patterns.

20 October, 2011 09:29

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that at the bottom of it, coppers should not pass judgement on the execution of the law by the courts.

It is not our place.

We are number-plate inspectors and quota tick-box merchants who criminalise 9-year-olds for playground squabbles. We hang on until early retirement.

Faced with hundreds of us Vs. mere dozens of rioters, as all over the country TV reports recorded us doing, we quail and quiver and hide on the sidelines and just watch ormlessly as people get assaulted, properties raided...... but hey! you dropped that piece of litter or Shana dissed Feemalia on Facebook and we are the man!

Tang0

20 October, 2011 10:03

 
Anonymous Bagpuss said...

"Nowhere in the article does it express astonishment that as high as 30% of the cases before the appeal court resulted in the halving of sentences given out. I have no doubt that the statistic for cases unconnected with rioting is far higher"

I am curious, what's the basis of your view that a higher proportion of appeals are successful? (I'm not saying that it isn't, I'm just curious as to whether that is simply your gut feeling or whether you've been involved in enough appeals to have seen a pattern.

I was not surprised that some of the appeals were sucessful with the riot cases, because there were not 'run ofthe mill' cases where ethe Court would have the benefit of sentencing guidelines plus lots of previous experience of other, similar cases, and in addition some of the cases were dealt with at speed and without the rationale for the sentances being properly articulated.

It's worth bearing in mind that in order to obtain legal aid funding to make an appeal, the appellant will have had to satisfy the LSC that the appeal should be funded, so by the time the case gets to a court on appeal it has been 'pre-sorted', as Legal Aidwill only be granted if there is a realistic propect if success

It may well be that 30%+ of cases which go to appeal are sucessful at appeal, but surely the statistic which is more relevent is what proportion of convictions result in a successful (or partially sucessful) appeal?

20 October, 2011 15:26

 
Anonymous Bagpuss said...

(second comment as it's responding to a slightly different issue)

Cabbage,

Speaking as someone who falls broadly into the category you mention, my view is that Victim's feelings are not irrelevent, and that the feelings of victims (both individuals and members of society more broadly)that people who commit crime should face punishment are part of what goes into a sentance, as should the actual impact of the crime on the vitim(s), which of course allows for higher sentanced for those who pick on more vulnerable victims.

Where I am much more uncomfortable is the idea that an INDIVIDUAL victim should dictate the specific sentence - obviously this is taken to it's logical extreme in countires which follow a Sharia system, where the choice about whether someone is punished or not comes down to the choice of the victim (and the offender's ability to pay blood-money) I'm not sure that it is justice to have a system where Convincted burglar "A" gets 5 years and convicted burglar "B" gets 1 year, solely because "B" happened to pick a a more forgiving victim.

I think that you get a fairer, more just system where the person deciing the outcome is and can be objective.

I do agree, however, that victims can end up almost sidelined, but I think the answr is primarily better information and support for victims, rather than making the victim the Judge.

20 October, 2011 15:40

 
Anonymous Bagpuss said...

(second comment as it's responding to a slightly different issue)

Cabbage,

Speaking as someone who falls broadly into the category you mention, my view is that Victim's feelings are not irrelevent, and that the feelings of victims (both individuals and members of society more broadly)that people who commit crime should face punishment are part of what goes into a sentance, as should the actual impact of the crime on the vitim(s), which of course allows for higher sentanced for those who pick on more vulnerable victims.

Where I am much more uncomfortable is the idea that an INDIVIDUAL victim should dictate the specific sentence - obviously this is taken to it's logical extreme in countires which follow a Sharia system, where the choice about whether someone is punished or not comes down to the choice of the victim (and the offender's ability to pay blood-money) I'm not sure that it is justice to have a system where Convincted burglar "A" gets 5 years and convicted burglar "B" gets 1 year, solely because "B" happened to pick a a more forgiving victim.

I think that you get a fairer, more just system where the person deciing the outcome is and can be objective.

I do agree, however, that victims can end up almost sidelined, but I think the answr is primarily better information and support for victims, rather than making the victim the Judge.

20 October, 2011 15:40

 
Anonymous Cabbage said...

It may well be that 30%+ of cases which go to appeal are sucessful at appeal, but surely the statistic which is more relevent is what proportion of convictions result in a successful (or partially sucessful) appeal?

I agree... you'd hope that defence solicitors would seek to avoid spurious appeals with no merit or chance of success, and consequently, that a substantial proportion of appeals would succeed.

20 October, 2011 17:09

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howdy troll boy at 10:03,
Maybe one day you will reveal what you do for a living.
Until then I imagine we will have to put up with your cowardly sniping from the sidelines, though admittedly with insults which struggle to escape primary school level.
Please try to do a little bit of homework, I suggest you start with researching the age of criminal responsibility. It might help you fill those long empty days between dole cheques and probation appointments. It might even give your toothless taunts a little bit of bite.


As far as your comment goes, we have every right to comment on the administration of justice. We are the only part of it which interacts with the victim and are concerned with "Who ACTUALLY did it" rather than just the legal game of guilty/not guilty,

Yours affectionately

Tang0 (The real thing;-)

20 October, 2011 22:21

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...but in truth, coppers are not fit nor capable nor able to handle abstract concepts.

We're just double-digit IQ robots.

Argos security guards, all.


Tang0

22 October, 2011 20:15

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years back, my wife and I were in her car, stationary at a pedestrian crossing while a number of people crossed the road. She had the handbrake on.

Suddenly, I noticed her stamp her right foot hard to the floor. BAM!

I was thrown hard forward, into my seatbelt, with my chin snapping into my chest. I didn't have a clue what had happened.

As I had serious neck pain, I was hauled off to hospital and diagnosed with severe whiplash. While there, I was interviewed by a police officer but couldn't contribute much.

Later, my wife told me she'd happened to look in the rear view mirror and noticed a car driving at us from behind. The driver, a woman, was chatting to her passenger another woman and not looking at the road.

My wife had just enough time to smack the brake pedal to the floor before the car hit ours at 30mph. In doing so, she managed to stop our car hitting three pedestrians even though we were shunted halfway across the crossing.

The driver of the car that hit us got out and, within earshot of several witnesses, said "ooh, I've done it again". When the police arrived, they had a number of witnesses: my wife, a bus driver who'd been stationary on the other side of the road, two of the three pedestrians and a couple of people from a bus stop.

Despite this, a few months later the CPS sent us a letter saying it was not in the public interest to prosecute the other driver.

A couple of days after the letter arrived, a police inspector came to our door early one evening and apologised for no action being taken. He was absolutely furious and revealed it was the third, yes, third, time the other driver had driven into a stationary vehicle because she wasn't paying attention to the road. Each time the CPS had decided not to prosecute—not in the public interest.

As he said to us, how long would it be before she killed someone?

Scenarios like that show how how ridiculous the justice system is. The country would be better off saving the money, scrapping the police, courts and CPS, and telling us to fend for ourselves. At least then I could legitimately bust her kneecaps, ensuring she never drove again.

Instead, a prodigious amount of money is taken in taxes and pissed down the drain while scum get away with doing what they want.

You bet I'm angry.

26 October, 2011 21:30

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no more balance in anything these days. Innocent people usually suffer more than the guilty ones.

--------------------------
Protect yourself from immediate death. Use a light bullet proof vest.

28 October, 2011 13:12

 
Anonymous Police Vacancies said...

We should review and analyze how our justice system is treating the people, because we can not see but a lot of them are being judging withouth reasons.

30 November, 2011 02:47

 

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