January 2016 has been a busy month for examples of idiocy in the justice system. Several times daily I find new examples on my timeline. The current shambles of a Government, it’s the gift that just keeps on giving.
As a result, I’ve accumulated enough potential blog topics to keep me occupied for the next few weeks, and to give me a headache as I feel compelled to turn the punk rock soundtrack up to 11 and bang my forehead repeatedly against the wall to try to forget that Lady Justice has now become a figure of fun in this country. A matter of ridicule.
(You can see some more of Dennis Cox’s excellent cartoons via the link here.)
Sticking in a pin into the list of Preposterous Propositions to Ponder, the first choice is the story which emerged last week about sexual risk orders (see the link to an early report on the case here and then there’s Dan Bunting’s take at the UK Criminal Law Blog page here), in which magistrates in North Yorkshire apparently saw fit to issue an interim order under ss122A to 122K of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as amended from 8.3.15, against a man in their area who hadn’t, it appears, been convicted of an offence. (It was reported that he’d been acquitted of a rape allegation at trial, though we obviously don’t know the full details of the case or the man’s background.)
Extrapolating what info is available from the various media reports, it appears that after the unnamed man’s acquittal, the police took umbrage and toddled off to the local magistrates’ court to suggest that the man had “done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which there is reasonable cause to believe that such an order is necessary”. Or at least, that’s what they must have suggested (hopefully with some sort of evidence, though we are talking about the magistrates’ court here), since that is what would be required for an SRO or interim SRO to be made (see Archbold 20-337). And the prohibitions which a sexual risk order permits must be “necessary for the purpose of protecting the public or any particular members of the public from harm from the Defendant”, or they shouldn’t be imposed.
One would also think that any such prohibitions would have to be capable of being enforced. Which would appear to be the major fly in the ointment with this case. Because what the bench granted – at least until the full hearing in May – was a term which told the unfortunate recipient that he must “disclose the details of any female, including her name, address and date of birth. You must do this at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place”.
Now, if worded exactly as quoted by the BBC, in any given case such a term would suggest that before, for example, masturbating, Mr X would need to ring the police and give them the details of “any female” (who? Sue Lawley? Theresa May? Some random woman he saw on a reality TV show? Can he choose anyone?). So even though we’re dealing with plod and magistrates here, we’d have to assume that the details an individual subject to a term like this is meant to disclose are those of some female with whom he believes there’s a reasonable prospect of actual legover taking place.
The astute among you, which is probably all of you, will immediately have spotted the problem. How can you predict you’re going to engage in sexual activity with Another Person at least 24 hours in advance of doing so? Do you diarise your love life? Do you call the local constabulary on the off-chance that you’re going to a club/gig/party and might find yourself engaged in a mild flirtation with a member of the opposite sex? If you’re about to get to first base, do you interrupt to say, “Hold on, love, I’ve just got to call Knacker of the Yard with an update. When’s your birthday?”
Bearing in mind that police resources and numbers have been decimated over the term of this Government and that the standard of investigation and case preparation for offences where people have actually been charged is now in many cases lamentably low, you’d think PC Knacker of the Yard might have better things to do.
Might actually be, well, you know, a bit busy doing Proper Police Work. But hey, no matter when some jobsworth at HQ or the Ministry who’s been on a College of Policing course thinks a Sexual Risk Order might be A Good Idea. FFS!
Bearing in mind this legislation is relatively new, we can all look forward to more examples of applications for ludicrously disproportionate, and frankly unworkable, orders. (I’ll be interested to see what happens at the application for the full order in May. Hopefully, by then someone in the court system will surely seen some sense and Lady Justice won’t appear quite so ridiculous.)
In the meantime, it’s back to banging my head against the wall and turning the music up louder. Today, some tunes by another Figure of Fun: Danzig. When I worked at Kerrang! Towers, we regularly mocked the man, mainly because he took himself incredibly seriously. And looked a little like, well, Boss Hog in a black suit. The Evil Elvis. The Satanic Fonzie.
But no matter how much a Figure of Fun he became, you can’t forget that Danzig made some of the most seminal US punk rock out there, with Misfits. Even his goth metal outfit Samhain weren’t too shabby.
And he likes cats. Which is always A Good Thing.
Unfortunately, thereafter Mr D often descended into self-parody. (There are apparently plans to release an LP entitled Danzig Sings Elvis. Oh dear me…) But despite that, you know, I’m still kind of fond of him.
So I’m off to listen to a spot of Fonzig (which you can also do here) as I bang my head against that wall. It’ll help me remember that Lady Justice won’t always be a Figure of Fun in this country.