Bill Carmichael: Flaws that undermine faith in justice system

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HERE’S a little riddle for you – when does 11 turn into three?

The answer is when you are dealing with Britain’s crazy criminal justice system.

This week at Bradford Crown Court a 14-year-old Asian schoolboy pleaded guilty to a racially motivated attack in which he stabbed his black schoolteacher in the stomach at the city’s Dixons Kings Academy.

He was given an “extended sentence” – handed out to offenders the court considers a danger to the public – of 11 years.

Sounds fair enough, especially considering the premeditation involved, the boy’s total lack of remorse and his boasting of the attack on social media, and the fact the teacher could easily have died.

The court heard that although still a teenager he has already accumulated a substantial criminal record. He was on bail for burglary at the time of the attack and had previous convictions for robbery, assault and threatening to kill two boys he had mugged.

Few would argue with Judge Jonathan Durham Hall’s description of him as an “anti-social bully” and a “dangerous young offender”.

If it is any comfort to the law abiding people of Bradford, at least they can sleep safely in their beds knowing this violent little thug will be kept off their streets for a good 11-year stretch. Right?

Er – not so fast folks. It turns out that despite the 11-year figure that featured in the news headlines, the custodial part of the sentence is in fact just six years – the remaining five years will be served on licence after he is given parole.

Oh, okay. I suppose we should take into consideration his comparative youth and immaturity. Six years is still a long time, and he will be in his twenties when he comes out.

He’ll have plenty of time to reflect on his behaviour and perhapse realise the error of his ways. Maybe he will emerge from custody ready to make some positive contribution to society – although frankly, given his record, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ah, but he won’t serve six years either – nothing like it. Offenders typically serve just half of the sentences handed down by the courts, so he will probably be out in just three.

Three years! For stabbing a teacher? Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?

Okay, I think three years for such a vile crime, given the aggravating circumstances, is absurdly lenient. But that is not the main problem here – worse is the huge disconnect between the sentences handed down by the courts and the time behind bars actually served by offenders.

When a criminal ends up serving little more than a quarter of the sentence deemed appropriate by the judge, it ends up bringing the entire criminal justice system into disrepute and erodes public confidence in justice. The same goes for so-called “life sentences” which, of course, are nothing of the sort, with murderers sometimes serving as little as five or six years and frequently less than 10.

Perhaps people would have more faith in the system if the sentences handed down by the courts had some semblance to reality.

No milk conspiracy

YOU can’t help but feel desperately sorry for Britain’s dairy farmers who are in dire straights at the moment.

Despite a backbreaking, seven-day-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year job, many farmers are seeing their livelihoods destroyed because of a disastrous 30 per cent drop in milk prices over the last 12 months.

If it is costing you at least 30p a litre to produce milk and the average price paid by the supermarkets is less than 24p, you are clearly in big trouble.

The big supermarkets could certainly do more to support their suppliers through hard times – and it was good to see Morrisons introducing a new Milk for Farmers brand this week in which 10p of the purchase price will go directly to the producers.

But there isn’t a sinister conspiracy by supermarkets to drive farmers out of business. Instead that familiar culprit supply and demand is to blame, with Russian sanctions reducing demand for milk from Western Europe and the strong pound making imports cheap.

That is no comfort to desperate dairymen, of course, and we need the retailers, the Government – and most of all the paying public – to do as much as we can to help farmers survive this crisis.

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