Personal responsibility

I'm a firm believer that people should take responsibility for their actions and I like to think I abide by that principle myself, but whether I do or not is probably best judged by others.

As I see it one of the biggest problems the Criminal Justice System faced is the population taking responsibility for itself.  If somebody won't take responsibility for their acts then I do not see how they can be rehabilitated.  One of the things that always shocks me is just how little responsibility people will take.  I remember sitting in the cells at Snaresbrook with a defendant accused of downloading lots of child pornography.  He accepted that he downloaded it, he said "out of curiosity" because when he had previously been convicted of the same offence he hadn't actually seen the pictures so he wanted to know what that kind of thing looked like. 

One thing I have to do is to act in the client's best interests; sometimes that means telling them the brutal truth and I remember saying something along the lines of "that sounds like a load of bollocks and the judge won't believe a word of it".  I asked him to explain to me the real reasons why he downloaded those pictures.  Of course he stuck to his story, said it wasn't really his fault and got the better part of a couple of years in prison.

I've noticed the same thing during the recent snow.  People complain that the path outside their house is icy but won't lift a finger to clear it and object to paying any more on their council tax so that the council can buy a serious amount of snow and ice clearing equipment.  Whereas when I was last in Slovenia and a foot of snow fell in one night on the exisiting foot of snow the next morning by 9am most of the streets were clear because everybody cleared the little bit outside their own home or work.

The Liberals have been guilty of this as well lately with their U-turn over tuition fees and bizarre claims that they never promised nothing g'uv and even if they did then those promises don't count now.

The lack of responsibility is one that is endemic in society and is something that should be tackled if any Government is serious about reducing crime.  I'd suggest starting by opening youth courts to the public and removing the almost automatic right to anonymity for youths convicted of crime.  If you've never been to a youth court (and you won't unless you're a wrong 'un or an official of some sort) then you probably don't know just what a soft unchallenging environment they are.  For example, I was once told off for calling a defendant "Master X" and reminded to call him by his first name so as not to intimidate him as he pleaded guilty to a series of nasty violent street robberies!  I think the youth court is a good place to start as today's first offence youth is tomorrows PYO and next weeks IPP or life prisoner.

People convicted of crimes (not just youths) should have it spelled out for them that they are in the wrong and they must take responsibility and if they don't then sentences should increase in future.  In theory this happens now, but magistrates courts are too busy for a bench to seriously tell somebody off and in reality sentences do not increase much as more offences are committed.  Further, get the local press to report more of what happens - naming and shaming drink drivers will probably have a much greater impact on their behaviour then any drink awareness course.

But, this isn't a problem that the CJS can fix alone; it is something that society as a whole needs to address.  People seem to think that the courts and the wider CJS are there to repair all of societies ills.  It's not.  All the courts can really do is mop up after the event.  If Government wants to reduce crime then they must act BEFORE the individual becomes a criminal.

I don't pretend that this is the elixir that will solve all crime in the UK, but I think its got to be a good place to start.


  1. Couldn't agree more about the Youth Court. There is something to be said for scaring them a bit.

    In reality, it won't make a blind bit of difference to 9 out of 10 of them, but then nor does softness. But for the remaining 1 out of the 10, the one who's generally a good kid who's just made a silly mistake/fallen in with the wrong crowd, it might just be the kick up the backside they need to make sure they never come before the Court again.

  2. For me the key message in your post is in the penultimate paragraph - 'the government needs to act BEFORE the individual becomes a criminal.' This is the clear message contained in Frank Field's recent report which confirms the shocking fact that "a child's future is determined before they ever set foot in a school."

  3. In the early 1990s in the USA, crime rates unexpectedly started to drop; first at the petty level and then at the more serious levels. The usual suspects all rocked up and claimed success, but the authors of a book called "Freakonomics" had a radical answer which fitted better than the rest. They pointed out that the crime rate drop had been most marked about 15 after the landmark Roe v Wade legal case had effectively legalised abortion.

    The net effect was that a cohort of unwanted kids got aborted instead of being born; these unwanted youngsters would have formed the bulk of the criminal cohort but abortion thinned out their numbers considerably.

    I would think that a similar thing would apply to the UK. Child benefit was originally a measure to boost population in the post-war era; it worked like a charm then and does so now. However, the cohort that responds most powerfully to a low financial inducement is also the one where a lot of the criminals hail from; child benefit is helping boost future criminal numbers. I would therefore say that a limit to child benefit should be imposed, say on the first two children in any family or even to the first two live births.

    This isn't eugenics, but simple common sense. Britain is overpopulated; we don't need to pay people to breed anymore.

  4. A good point well articulated, though you may care to reflect on an earlier post on politics. Lying, bullying and cheating gained credence under the last government who used it as a tool for self interest, with no apparent shame when caught out. Personal integrity was abolished and dissent was to be stamped on with little regard for the individual. Persistent and proven liars flourished, and a lack of ability no bar to advancement. How anyone involved in the ‘outing’ and subsequent death of Dr. David Kelly sleeps at night is beyond me. With these duds as examples, is it a wonder that no-one will take responsibility?

  5. Excellent post and as a G+Family Justice I agree with you on the early life of the child as being the time to prevent any onward roll into crime.

  6. Thanks for all the positive comments - especially liked the "awsome" from LondonPC, not sure a policeman ever described what I said before in those terms!!

    Dr Dan, I've been looking for a copy of Freakonomics for ages but nobody seems to stock it anymore. I've bought Super Freakonomics but haven't read it yet. I've read similar books but I've always found that when the authors try to explain concepts beyond mere economic behaviour using economic theory it's never quite right. Rather that saying that more abortions means less potential criminals, I'd have thought it more likely that more abortions equalled less very young immature parents bringing up children in poverty, which in turn led to less crime since crime and poverty do go hand in hand. If there had been a marked decrease in family size or population since Roe v Wade I'd be inclined to agree with the learned authors of Freakonomics. But, I suspect that all that has happened is that the young people who had abortions still had the same number of children but were more mature, responsible and thus better able to raise their off-spring.

    Anon #2, I did have that post on politics firmly in mind when I wrote this. I don't think all politicians are corrupt... I just happen to think many of them are more interested in themselves than anything else.

  7. has Freakonomics.
    And is very good for hard to find books.

  8. Back in my student days (the 60s) I had to appear twice in court: 1)Drunk and disorderly, 2 ) Behaviour likely to cause a breach of the Queen's Peace (or some such words). Didn't stop the boozing and luckily they were lenient.
    One needs to distinguish between youthful high spirits (thank you, mine's a single malt) and really yobo criminality perhaps?

  9. I think that I would go for a mixed approach - anonymity for the first offence, but not therafter.

    That way, the child / young person who does get into trouble through stupidity / being easily led etc but **is** scared by the results can go on without having been publically labled as a criminal, but those who have not learned from their first experience would be treated less leniently.

    I see similar attitudes dealing with clients (part of my job includes acting for parents in Care Proceedings) - I have one mother who is furious that the Local Authority is not doing more to deal with her 14 year old son's behaviour - she is simply unable to accept that her parenting of him for the past 14 years might have contributed..


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