Peter Rhodes on an old trick, a new series and the perils of letting yobs wash police cars
We hacks fell for it again. It's an old trap. A new TV series is unveiled with whispers of something truly appalling. It might be sex scenes, or foul language or, in the case of the new Great Expectations (BBC1), a tirade against the Empire, and all we once held dear. The newspapers take the bait and the Beeb gets acres of free publicity.
And then we watch the new show and it's not shocking at all. In fact, so far (keep this to yourself), it's rather good.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that justice delayed is justice denied. However, justice delivered in haste is no better. Rishi Sunak is the latest in a long line of politicians who promise to tackle antisocial behaviour by punishing offenders pretty damn quick. Remember Tony Blair's plan to march miscreants to the nearest cashpoint to extract instant fines for vandalism and yobbery? After much ridicule, it vanished without trace.
The Sunak plan is to tackle yobbery by making offenders wear hi-viz clothing and repair the damage they have caused within 48 hours. Can't you just hear the frenzied rustling of lawyers brandishing human-rights laws? They can surely convince the courts that it is a breach of our rights to force anyone to wear anything, and that to set a time deadline on any punishment is unlawful.
And what fun the lawyers would have with Sunak's suggestion that vandals could be forced to repay their debt to society by washing police cars. They may have a legal precedent. Under military law, soldiers are obliged to obey lawful orders but can refuse to obey unlawful orders. Strangely enough, in military-law lessons the text-book example of an unlawful order is a senior officer telling soldiers to wash his car.
There's also the issue of that ancient and cherished line from English common law, forbidding “cruel and unusual punishments.” What could be crueller than having to wield a wet sponge on a chilly morning?
In any case, if you were a police officer, how would you feel about driving a car washed by the local yobbery? I hesitate to put ideas in the heads of the ungodly but a single kipper in the engine compartment could spoil a copper's day.