A piece in yesterday’s Times. The 200+ comments thread is very interesting.
I am planning a life of crime, but not of punishment. This week I will steal two magnums of Dom Pérignon, glug both, smash one bottle over the head of a passer-by, get in my car well over the limit and drive into a tree. If you see me on my rampage it may be best to steer clear because I’ll be packing a fork to stab those who interfere. Come my day in court I have an inkling it will be OK, though, because I am a woman, youngish, with a degree: things that seem to act as a forcefield against punishment in our criminal justice system.
Last week we learnt that a junior doctor who had twice been caught drink-driving was to be spared prison. Lauren Fowler, 25, crashed her car and was found slurring and swearing by the police. Less than two months later, while on bail, she was caught three times over the limit after half a bottle of vodka. Recklessly endangering life not once but twice. She called it a “wake-up call”, but must have pressed the snooze button the first time. Yet, after much was made in court of Fowler’s profession and the stress it entails, she received a suspended sentence.
A few weeks ago there was the case of Sophia Brogan-Higgins, a 22-year-old catwalk model who smashed a glass into the forehead of a female security guard in a nightclub, leaving a two-inch wound. One might have assumed that drawing blood means doing bird but no: suspended sentence.
Rebecca Batchelor was also shown mercy last month. The 21-year-old model had been profiting from her boyfriend’s scheme of defrauding pensioners. Learning that one was being conned out of £5,000 she texted “woooooo, shopping time”. On hearing that another victim would be paying out, she replied: “She better be, the bitch.” The judge described Batchelor as “naive”. Her sentence? Suspended.
Most notoriously there was Lavinia Woodward, the 24-year-old Oxford University student who stabbed her ex-boyfriend in the leg with a bread knife, but was let off with a suspended sentence. Why? According to the judge she is “an extraordinarily able young lady” whose hopes of becoming a surgeon would be damaged by a spell inside. Again, no porridge for the pretty girl.
Is some perverse sense of gallantry driving these decisions? Is it difficult to believe that attractive young women can be responsible for ugly things? It could just be that the judges are following the spirit of the guidelines set down for them. The Equal Treatment Bench Book has a section on Gender Equality which might be more appropriately titled Gender Special Treatment. It quotes Baroness Hale of Richmond, now the president of the Supreme Court, who argued that “a male-ordered world has applied to [women] its perceptions of the appropriate treatment for male offenders” and said: “The criminal justice system could . . . ask itself whether it is indeed unjust to women.” It also suggests that those sentencing must be “made aware of the differential impact sentencing decisions have on women and men”. All of which implies that if a man and woman have committed the same crime, the woman should be treated with more “understanding” and leniency. Her sex is a mitigating factor in itself.
It is no surprise, therefore, that according to the criminal justice figures from 2015, men were almost twice as likely to be put into immediate custody for an indictable offence as women. Under similar criminal circumstances, men were 88 per cent more likely to be sent to prison. For vehicle-related theft as a first offence, men were three times more likely to be imprisoned. For violence against the person, again as a first offence, it was almost three times as likely. Across the categories men were much more likely to do time for a first offence. [J4 emphasis]
Of course, there are good arguments for not banging women up for trivial offences. Principally that they are often mothers whose imprisonment can devastate a family. [J4MB: Nonsense. Women with caring responsibilities know they will be treated leniently in sentencing terms, so are incentivised to commit crimes. Being a carer (whether for children or elderly parents) should be an aggravating circumstance, not a mitigating one.] But when the crimes are violent, or serious, justice must apply equally to all. This is the fundamental principle that underpins confidence in our legal system: whether you are male, female, rich, poor, old, young, black, white, all are treated equally. [J4MB: But they’re not, which is why confidence in the legal system is low, and getting lower over time.] Already this principle is being undermined by concept of “hate” crime, which means that the suffering of some victims is taken more seriously on account of their sex, race or sexuality. Cases like those above reinforce the impression of a two-tier system, in which young, well-to-do women skip the punishment that some male, rougher customer would have had to take for the same crime.
This is maddening for victims. [J4MB: And maddening for men, the victims of the gynocentric criminal justice system] If I was informed that someone I love had been glassed, stabbed, scammed or killed by a drink-driver, I would care little about the responsible party’s sex, age or profession. The criminal justice system is there, partly, to afford victims some proper retribution, and this matters whether the offender is a doctor, a catwalk model or a famous ping pong player.
Showing female defendants more leniency does nothing for the cause of genuine equality, either. We can’t argue that men and women should be treated as equals in everything except justice. [J4MB: Clare Foges thinks men and women are treated as equals elsewhere? Wow.] Seeing women as less culpable for serious crime is oddly infantilising, suggesting that such behaviour simply must be an aberration in our sugar-and-spice make-up. If equality is to mean anything, it has to cut both ways: just as you mustn’t be discriminated against by officialdom on account of your sex so you mustn’t be privileged either. For the sake of all women, Lady Justice must keep her blindfold on and her impartiality intact.
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