Law & Order

The Role of Law

Sometimes you find an error in a book so early and brazen that you barely feel the need to read further, and if you do, everything after that is diminished by the awareness of the author's bias or irrationality. A classic example is Marx's Das Capital, and his theory of value. It is palpable nonsense, on which much of his edifice rests. Anyone with a critical mind must surely see through it. There may be some grains of truth later, but one tends to discount them from awareness that his reasoning is prejudiced.

Judges to be formally assessed

What is the best way to improve the performance of our judges?  Well in typical New Labour fashion it seems the answer is to set target levels and dumb down.  It is being reported that judges’ performance in court could well be monitored by some sort of assessor who will look out for a judge’s performance on handling a court, showing authority, communicating and resolving issues and managing time and workloads, in the plans under discussion.  They will then be formally appraised how well they listen; whether they communicate clearly without using legal jargon and on the general handling of

Lies, damn lies, and government statistics

I listened this morning to Nick Ross and James Brokenshire (Tory spokesman on Home Affairs) arguing about crime statistics on Radio 4. Brokenshire claims that the statistics show that violent crime is on the increase. Ross accuses him of cherry-picking from the figures, which show an increase in certain figures but a more general decline. Brokenshire says that the figures he is looking at are the important ones, and anyway his constituents tell him what is really going on.

It is the latter point that really counts, though it is unverifiable. If Brokenshire is lying about what his constituents are telling him, he is at risk of being voted out at the next election. MPs' impressions from their communications with constituents may not be a reliable guide to reality, let alone the correct course of action, as they are necessarily subjective, but they are a more reliable guide to people's experiences than any number of government statistics.

The problem with many debates nowadays is that they rely on statistics, without considering the reliability, accuracy and relevance of those statistics. The Government has helpfully provided (at the time and expense of those who fill out their forms and of taxpayers who pay for it to be processed) a range of statistics for almost any circumstance. Surprise, surprise - amongst these, a statistic can always be found to argue, however obliquely, that the Government is succeeding in its objectives. But as Sir Josiah Stamp observed (quoted in Paul Seabright's The Company of Strangers):

"the Government are very keen on amassing statistics. They collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But you must never forget that every one of these figures comes in the first instance from the village watchman, who puts down what he damn well pleases."

It is mostly middle-managers rather than village watchmen filling out the forms nowadays, but the result is the same, if not worse, because there is no prospect that the middle manager or his employer may be rewarded or punished according to the accuracy of the information provided. Their optimal strategy is to waste as little time on it as possible, and to tell the Government what it is in their interests for the Government to believe, not necessarily the truth. Not very different to the village watchman, but with even fewer consequences of dereliction of duty.

Nevertheless, we regularly hear people claiming that crime has risen or fallen, rather than that recorded crime has risen or fallen; or that inflation or unemployment is rising or falling, not that the Government's measure of inflation or unemployment is rising or falling; or, as reported in the news today, that children under 16 are drinking twice as much as they did only a few years ago, rather than that children of that age say they are drinking more. The distinction is crucial, because it is just as likely, perhaps more so, that what has changed is the reporting of a phenomenon, not the actual phenomenon itself.

When we see a Third-World election where the incumbent wins 95% of the vote, we know that it is probably a fraud. In the First-World we are more subtle - governments know that absurdly high numbers are not credible, and anyway most bureaucrats are not consciously corrupt enough to deliberately distort the figures. We have a more subtle form of corruption, but also a more pernicious form because of its subtlety. It is the form of corruption that was seen most strongly in the Soviet Union, where government by central-planning and targets was more successful at delivering ever-increasing volumes of ever-improving statistics, than at actually delivering the goods that the statistics were supposed to be measuring.

In this regard, we are living in a neo-Soviet Britain. We are governed and incentivized and judged - in short, we are micro-managed - by targets and statistics. No wonder people's efforts become focused on improving the figures rather than the underlying products. We see it most glaringly in the grade-inflation in our education system, but it is ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives. We no longer believe the figures that the ruling and chattering classes love to cite, because we know that they bear little resemblance to reality. And we are right not to believe them. It is no more credible that the educational attainment of our students has improved every year for quarter of a century than that a despot would be supported enthusiastically by 95% of the population.

When Brokenshire and Ross argue about what the statistics tell us about crime levels, they are engaging in entirely sterile debate. We will form our judgments about levels of crime from our experiences, the experiences of people we know, and from the stories we see in the media. If Brokenshire's constituents really are telling him that they feel less secure (and I don't doubt that they are), he should rest his case on that, and not get sucked into bandying unreliable statistics with people who believe that levels of reported crime are the same thing as levels of crime.

The anti-social sausage thrower. Aged 12.

From the BBC-

A 12-year-old boy was charged with assault and taken before the courts - for throwing a cocktail sausage.

The boy was accused of throwing the pork snack at a 74-year-old man in Woodhouse Park, south Manchester.

"Greater Manchester Police takes all incidents of anti-social behaviour very seriously and they are investigated thoroughly."

What the..?!

From today's Times:

"Police are being sent skateboarding in an attempt to cultivate a “cooler” image to improve their relations with young people. Hampshire police are sending officers to workshops, attended by up to 30 youngsters aged from 12 to 16, to receive expert tuition."

I have nothing more to add to this that you aren't already thinking. 

The Government cop-out

We have, to a certain degree, an anti-social drinking problem in this country.  The solution?  Ban it.  But what are the real causes of this problem?  It doesn't matter - ban it.  We are told today that nearly 200 MPs now want the Government to stop supermarkets selling cut-price drink after a senior policeman appealed for action to tackle drunken youths.  There also reports that a "top cop" wants to ban drinking outdoors (that'll confuse the alcoholic smokers!).  Yes, there have been various drinking related problems recently - particularly with the young.  But I'm su

Government targets corrupt police work

While on the subject of government targets, there are according to police figures on-the-spot fines for crimes such as being drunk and disorderly, destroying property and shoplifting are being issued at a rate of one every three minutes!  What a violent country we live in.  Who would have thought that things are so bad that the police are forced to hand out these on the spot fines every three minutes.  Just as well they are so easy to hand out...


Another government policy has been exposed for its ineffectiveness and its lack of proper analysis in to the problem before implementation.  The Commons public accounts committee has reported that ASBOs are being handed out with little effect on anti-social behaviour in many circumstances.  All this while anti-social behaviour not only makes lives a misery for many, it is costing the tax-payer £3.4bn a year.  The report states that "Some 10 years after the first anti-social behaviour measures were introduced, no national evaluation of the effectiveness of the different anti-social

Legalise crime

He is officially back.  Jack Straw that is.  He has come up with an ingenious solution to prison overcrowding problem too.  Instead of building our way out of the problem - i.e.

Who said crime doesn't pay?

A couple of days ago I said the two worst departments to get your hands on as a Secretary of State have to be the Department of Health and the new Ministry of Justice. Well, in the first full day, what a surprise but it is the DoH and MofJ that are in the Picking Losers' firing line. And boy this one is cracker. You could not make this one up. Jack Straw, welcome to the fiasco that is known as the rather Orwellian sounding Ministry of Justice.

A new law every three-and-a-quarter hours!

It comes as no surprise today to learn how prolific the Labour government has been when it comes to introducing legislation. The Blair premiership has seen an average of 2,685 new laws introduced each year! That is one every three-and-a-quarter hours! It has been Blair's answer to everything – there is nothing that can't be solved without a piece of legislation in the crazy world of New Labour. The research by legal information providers Sweet & Maxwell, has shown that more than seven new laws have come into force every day since Tony Blair came to power a decade ago!

Would you like an ipod with that underserved bonus?

The department described by outgoing Secretary of State John Reid as "not fit for purpose" is paying out £3.6m in bonuses to its staff. The Home Office, which has recently been split up as it could not cope with the work load, feel one in five of its civil servants deserves a bonus of up to £15k. This despite scandals such as the release of 1000 foreign criminals who should have been deported. This is a massive 75% increase since 2002, begging the questions - have things really got better (75% better!) since 2002? What exactly are these people being rewarded for?

You are under arrest for possession of an egg with intent to throw

If ever proof were needed that the more the government intervene the more damage they actually do here it is. The government think that the best way to improve policing is tell the policemen exactly how to their job. This has led to officers arresting more and more easy targets just to boost government figures. Rather like my previous post, it is easy for the government to get headline grabbing figures like - "Police arrest more criminals under Labour" - but that is not the point. What are they arresting people for is more relevant.

£9bn and doomed to fail.

The proposed split of the Home Office is fast approaching.  In a department that has just taken its latest victim with John Reid announcing his retirement from front bench politics at the weekend (nothing to do with the fact the Brown would have pushed him anyway), it has been deemed too difficult a department for one man to run.  In the past 6 years, Straw, Blunkett, Clarke and Reid have all failed where many have before them.  So, the solution is to split the department up leaving the Home Office to largely tackle terrorism and merge the National Offender Management part with the Department for Constitutional Affairs.  This is what has become known by the press as the Ministry of Justice.   Brilliant.  Not sure what benefit we will be from this, but the Ministry of Justice sounds very Marvel comic.  I also can not tell you how much it will cost, because the Government won't tell anyone.  However, expect it to be mind boggling large as government estimates (and we all know how short they often come up) suggest.

Sort this out before it's too late

"Private security staff who operate prison vans will decide from today whether young adults awaiting trial in London are mentally strong enough to survive in the toughest prisons." I had to read that sentence a few times before I realised I read it right in the first place. Indeed, according to the Guardian, White Van Man will be doubling up as Sigmund Freud. What is going on? The article continues "Serco private escort officers staffing the vans which move prisoners between courts and prisons in London will decide whether a young adult on remand is too much of a suicide risk to be held at an adult prison and should be sent instead to Feltham young offender institution." If I were one of these van drivers I would point blank refuse - you can not put that sort of responsibility on security staff who have no training or understanding of psychology.

MTAS has collapsed, don't let it happen with ID cards

Congratulations to Dr Crippen for his massive success in getting the deficient NHS recruitment IT system shut down. Whilst it is too late for all those people who have had their personal details disclosed and for the tax payers who have had to stump up for this mess, at least it is a real disclosure that this government can not do IT projects. Now will the government accept that it can not do IT projects and shelve plans for the ID card scheme? I doubt it, but I hope the electorate take note. An ID card scheme will be far, far bigger on scale and will hold personal details (like the MTAS) on all of us. Do you still trust the government to keep the details secure? I certainly don't, and I don't want to pay the billions of pounds to test this fear either. Scrap it now, Gordon (you are in charge, right?) for the sake of our security and our bank balances.

Stop bullying us with your legislation, Tony

It has been reported today that there are 266 different legislative powers in which the state has a right to enter our homes - and we're not just talking about Policemen with search warrants. The over legislating, under thinking, government gives more protection in our own homes to burly jobsworths from local car pound than it does to ourselves. What is more worrying, however is the penalties that can be dished out for obstructing the heavy mobs from forcing their way in. These include heavy fines and even prison sentences of up to two years!