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Why Scouting for girls is like criminal law

I'm watching BBC Breakfast and they have a piece about the fact that more girls than boys have joined the Scouts this year for the first time ever.

It's good news for the Scouts that they remain so popular, but it got me thinking about the funny way that sexual equality works.

When I was a boy the Scouts were exclusively for boys - the handbook may even have still been called "Scouting for Boys".  While I was still a member the UK leadership changed the rules to allow girls to join, but left the choice of whether to admit girls to individual troops.  We had just one enquiry from a girl and the leader asked us to vote whether the troop should admit girls.  The vote was a unanimous no and as I remember the main reason was because we all just wanted somewhere we could all go that was just for us boys (I was about 10 at the time so maybe the reasoning wasn't quite so clearly defined as I recall).

Something that has always intrigued me is why there was a call for the Boy Scouts to admit girls but no similar call for the Girl Guides to admit boys.  I'm pretty sure that many people would say "well, boys wouldn't want to join the Guides", but that was exactly what we all thought about girls before they were allowed to join the Scouts!

This kind of positive discrimination can be seen in other aspects of our society.  For example, when I studied A-Level law our teacher asked the class to vote on sentences.  By a majority of about 20 to 3, the class voted to give a lower sentence to a woman than a man where both were convicted of the same crime.  Even now, my advice to female clients is that although in theory they should be sentenced on the same principals as their male counterparts, in reality the risk of their going to prison is far lower.

This isn't limited just to sentencing, it can also be seen in the way the prosecution present their cases to juries.  A few years ago I defended in a conspiracy to cultivate cannabis case where two husband and wife teams were said to have been running cannabis farms on an industrial scale.  It seemed to me that they were all in it together, but the prosecution went after the husbands so much that the wives defence barely had to say a word throughout the case.

In another example, three people were accused of money launder.  The woman was found with all the cash (approx. one million pounds cash) and all the banking records in her home.  She was also observed making deposits into bank accounts as part of the laundering activity.  She was caught out lying several times during interview about her activities, land ownership etc.  Her boyfriend and his nephew were just seen making deposits.  The prosecution placed her last on the indictment and went for the two men with gusto.  Both men were convicted but our client, the woman and brains behind the operation, was acquitted.

Is any of this right or wrong?  Is it just in my imagination?


  1. thats a fascinating angle that I haven't thought of before! thank you for giving me an interesting start to the weekend....

  2. I think that women who transgress their stereotype, (for example, kill their children or spouse) tend to get heavier sentences than men who do the same thing (discussed by Helena Kennedy in "eve was framed"). But generally, yes, the idea that women are ruled by their men still remains - marriage service, anyone?

  3. Thanks Anon,

    deadselkie, that is an interesting point and one that I don't personally know much about, but if Helena Kennedy says it's true then it must be. I think that the image of the weak woman that perhaps leads to women taking a back seat in criminal cases would also lead to much harsher sentenced in child killing cases just as you said. I can almost imagine what a sentencing judge would be thinking.


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