Why forcing all prisoners into court to be sentenced sounds good but will be a drag
Some brief words for those who want to see offenders dragged into the dock for sentencing.
It is an unpleasant gastronomic diet that courts may have to get used to if the policy is rigorously enforced.
In the imagination of the good people and politicians calling for the measure, crooks forced into court to face their victims and pay the consequences of their crimes will be contrite, ashamed and repentant. But may I suggest that those who actually know what goes on in court may not fully concur with that particular land of the cloud cuckoos.
Having had, I hope, a reasonably good upbringing, going into courts to cover them as a reporter opened my eyes to a world I knew must exist but had never been confronted with.
It should not come as a shock that those in the dock are often the opposite of nice people.
This was driven home early in my reporting career when a well-known local hard nut was up before the beak. The middle-class gentleman chairing the bench explained politely why they were sending him to jail for six months.
Hard nut computed the matter for a few moments before spitting out: “Six months? Eat ****!”
He was to go on to worse things and as he stood in the dock in Crown Court flanked by prison officers I was able to see, from the press benches, the special notes that they had been given.
“Watch him when sentenced” they read, as he was known to be prone to making a bolt for it, but in this instance did not, despite being given a long spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
The new law will task prison officers with dragging reluctant prisoners who are literally kicking and screaming into the dock.
What they then do in the dock will show no respect for victims, the courts, the system, or the dignity of the process. In past years IRA killers would refuse to recognise the court and used the dock as a platform to shout their slogans.
It is one of those rules that sounds fine in theory, but goes against the modern trend to ensure – not that the accused face their victims, but that victims are protected from having to face the accused. Hence the advent of evidence being given from behind screens and so on.
In making laws, rules and regulations, you have to take into account those who you are asking to enforce them. Human beings being human beings, they may apply difficult-to-enforce strictures in a pragmatic way.
It’s nothing to do with the courts, but a marvellously indiscreet book written by a chap who was a nurse at Shelton psychiatric hospital in the 1950s gave some good examples of how that can happen.
One instance was a rule that was brought in that decreed every patient was to be given an individual bath each day.
As hardworking staff believed this was impossible in practice, he said what they did was to run one bath into which the patients would get in turn, with the taps left running.
My former colleague Alan Millward, who has sadly died, was well known for his good works with the hospital league of friends.
But I want to particularly thank him for telling me what a bosh is.
Alan was born and raised at Carpenters Row in Coalbrookdale, two-up two-down workers’ cottages with no water and no toilet.
All of them, he told me, had a bosh in the yard.
What’s a bosh? I asked. I had never heard the word.
He said a bosh was a big water tank supplying the water for washing and drinking and everything.
There was also a tin bath outside which was brought into the kitchen when needed.
Eventually they had a tap in the yard at the front, after which his dad ran a pipe through the house so they had one cold water tap at the back.
It was luxury compared to those residents who had no tap at all.
Alan was 79, so we are talking about days which for some people are within living memory.
We talk about hardship today, but different generations calibrate hardship differently.