Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, July 3, 2007

IF you were to wander through a North Wales town firing a shotgun, not particularly aiming at anyone, bit not really taking care not to, I wonder what would happen?
I’m guessing the forces of law and order would soon take an interest in your activities and a short spell in police cells would be rapidly followed by a long spell in prison.
So why is a shotgun different to a car?
Why can you get away with behaviour driving a car that would almost certainly see you jailed were it any other sort of implement?
The failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute Robert Harris for any offence other than having defective tyres has been rightly criticised by North Wales coroner John Hughes.
From the inquest it is clear Mr Harris is sorry for what happened when he lost control of his car and killed four cyclists, but prosecution fulfils two functions.
Firstly is punishes those who have broken the law; secondly it prevents further offending – by taking the perpetrator out of circulation – and, crucially, acting as a deterrent to others who see him punished.
That deterrent effect is somewhat diminished if the public who are supposed to be being deterred see the perpetrator walk free with just a prosecution for having defective tyres.
Very few people get behind the wheel of a car intending to do harm and yet that is what they end up doing through carelessness or recklessness and so reminders are what they need no matter how unnecessary they might seem.
So why do car drivers enjoy this leniency?
Well, I think it’s due to the fact that virtually all of us have cars nowadays and when one of us breaks the law there’s a feeling of palpable relief among those unwilling to criticise themselves. It’s a case of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.”
And how did the Crown Prosecution Service suddenly take over from the courts?
I can understand them taking decisions on whether to prosecute or not, but they need to understand the effect those decisions have.
The proper place for cases to stand or fall on the evidence is a court, and yet all too often the court does not determine whether the charge is proven or not, the decision is taken out of the hands of judges and magistrates.
If the CPS decide not to prosecute that denies someone their day in court and a cloud still hangs over their name – have they truly been cleared? No they haven’t.
The CPS needs to be careful that in deciding whether there is a realistic likelihood of a conviction they do not undermine the role of the courts. Very often they decide there is not and a case never makes it to court.
The problem is that while grieving relatives may be able to accept a court’s decision to dismiss a case, they are less tolerant of decisions made by faceless CPS staff without any consultation.
But the fundamental problem is that we, as a society, are far too tolerant of crime committed at the wheel of a car.
And the hysterical reaction of people to Richard Brunstrom’
Tackling that tolerance of wrongdoing will take legislation so that the punishment fits the crime and is an effective deterrent.

THE Bankses have packed the car, packed the kids and hit the beach.
It’s a traditional Llyn holiday for us this summer, complete with monsoon it would seem.
How the Llyn welcomes its visitors will be interesting to see. I remember idyllic holidays there as a child and wonder whether it has become more welcoming, or less.
More importantly, will it be sun-drenched days on the golden sands, or noses pressed up against the window and interminable board games as the rain beats down.
I’ll report back on the experience in next week.

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