A POLICEMAN’S LOT IS NOT AN ‘APPY ONE

I read the Court of Appeal judgment this morning in the case of Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex Police, proof, if proof be needed, that I do occasionally read The Times Law Reports. For the uninitiated, they can be found after “Obituaries” and before “Court Circular.”

This was the appalling case of the claimant who had alerted the police to a man who was making threats to kill him. The police did nothing, and as a result, the claimant was seriously assaulted and nearly died. The Court of Appeal ruled that there should be some point at which police officers, once alerted, could not escape responsibility. Unlike the ordinary passer-by, their police status would require them to do something.

It’s breathtaking that the Chief Constable thought otherwise, not to mention the quality of the legal advice he received, which puts me in mind of two recent events highlighting the inability of the police to “prioritise” their responsibilities.

The first concerned a neighbour of mine, who was constantly pestered by a group of antisocial yobs outside his house late at night, drinking, shouting, swearing, and throwing rolls of lavatory paper at his windows. Guess what! He contacted the police, and was firmly advised not to confront the group on pain of injury or arrest! So he waited for the police to attend, which, in the fullness of time, they did, in the form of a community support officer, also known as a “hobby bobby.”

When the yobs reassembled the following night, he again contacted the police for a progress report, and was told they had been spoken to, but no further action had been taken for fear of upsetting them! So his ordeal continued, unabated.

Then there was the case of a man who returned home late at night, had a violent argument with his drunken wife, and left in her car to give her time to sober up and calm down. She phoned the police to complain that her husband had taken her car, and wanted advice on how to get it back. Within fifteen minutes, six, yes, six police officers turned up at her house, and when her husband returned a few minutes later, he was promptly arrested for breach of the peace, and when he protested, further arrested for obstruction. Happily, the case against him was dismissed.

As the song goes: “A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one,” but it shouldn’t take rocket science to “prioritise” complaints and act on them promptly and responsibly. Confidence in the police is the cornerstone of a civilised society, and if the judgment of the Court of Appeal is anything to go on, they still have a lot to learn.

LOVE CONQUERS ALL

Straying from the domestic agenda for a moment or three, I recently read a report of the judgment from the Italian Court of Cassation, which, as the Europhiles amongst you will know, is their highest court, so not to be dismissed lightly.

According to the report, the Court of Cassation has ruled that Italian mistresses cannot be prosecuted for perjury if they deny on oath the existence of a clandestine affair with a married man, reasoning that such a denial preserves the sanctity of marriage and the fabric of family life.

I have to say that I gasped with astonishment at the judgment, not, I hasten to add, because I am running two households, but because it’s so wonderfully Italian!

Did you see Monty Don’s splendid programme the other evening on television about Mediterranean gardens, and in particular the Villa D’Este and the Villa Liande in Tivoli? Don’s enthusiasm for gardens and gardening is positively infectious, and a joy to watch. Anyway, these magnificent villas and their gardens were created during the Renaissance for Princes of the Church with an eye to the Papacy, and very fitting indeed they were for wannabee Vicars of Christ.

I’ve often thought I was a red cardinal in a former life. I wear red socks, I love dressing up, and I harbour illusions of grandeur on a monumental scale, and where better than a stone’s throw from the centre of Christendom. The weather, the food and wine, the way of life, it’s senza para!

The Court of Cassation is silent on whether the same immunity from prosecution should be extended to married men, but it’s only a matter of time, and besides, what about the principle of equality in the workplace? After all, satisfying a wife AND a mistress is a real labour of love!

It was the same Court of Cassation which ruled, some years ago, that a woman wearing skin tight jeans could not be the victim of rape, on the basis that their removal would require the wearer’s active participation, or, at the very least, her passive compliance. Sembrare logico!

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I’ve been away for a week’s well earned R & R in the Algarve, so I hope you’ve managed without me. The weather was sublime for this time of the year, and a welcome break away from the doom and gloom of dreary Olde England.

As I was waiting in the departure lounge, my eye caught a strident headline in the Daily Mail commenting on the acquittal by a jury of a young Cambridge student, charged with the sexual assault of some anonymous female. The leader writer could find nothing good to say about her, and quoted the judge’s remarks criticising the decision of the CPS to bring the charge in the first place. But another strident comment on the inside pages gave me cause for concern. The writer questioned the fairness of a system that allows for the free publication of the defendant’s name and details, whilst the alleged victim remains anonymous.

This argument has been well rehearsed, time and again, since the relevant legislation came into force many years ago. The thinking behind the “anonymity” shield has always been the reluctance of rape victims to make a complaint and be willing to substantiate it. To all right minded people, rape is a degrading and reprehensible crime, and where possible, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Real victims should be given every help in coping with the inevitable ordeal of reliving the trauma, and a guarantee of anonymity goes some way to reassuring them in the trial process.

If the Daily Mail is seriously advocating the abolition of the right to anonymity where the defendant is acquitted, who decides when and in what circumstances the victim should lose her shield? A moment’s reflection shows this is unworkable, unless the “anonymity” shield is removed altogether. It’s a nightmare scenario, and best left alone.

What depressed me more in the report of the trial were the judge’s criticisms of the CPS. It’s a classic case of “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” I remember the good old days when the judge was the master of his own court, and if he felt the prosecution lacked merit, he would withdraw the charge from the jury and direct an acquittal. But this case went to the jury, so I assume there was sufficient evidence to raise a prima facie case, and in the circumstances, his criticisms were unfair and unhelpful.

The problem is that the entire criminal justice system has been hijacked by the government, and judges are now increasingly irrelevant. They are fearful of any black marks against their record and anything that might affect their chances of promotion and their index linked pensions. The CPS is an easy target, but in this case, an undeserving one.

Thank God for trial by jury, the bulwark of a civilised society. At least they are prepared to stand up and be counted, leaving the bit players to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and hopefully, to be heard no more.

A CHILD IS BORN

More depressing statistics hit the headlines. We are told that children of drug addicted parents, single or otherwise, are taking drugs when they’re barely into their teenage years. Kids of ten and eleven, and sometimes even younger, are dabbling with cannabis and alcohol as a precursor to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

I have a confession to make. I have never used illegal drugs. I’ve never seen the need for them. I enjoy a good drink from time to time, and I’m an inveterate cigar smoker when permitted, but not so much as a joint has passed my lips in all my years of mortal coil, inhaled or otherwise. It’s not because of a privileged upbringing, as thousands of my equally privileged peers indulged, and it’s not for the lack of opportunity. I was around in the States during those heady ‘flower power’ days in the late sixties, the Chicago student riots of ’68, Woodstock and San Francisco, where we all wore flowers in our hair and the whole of North America, with one obvious exception, was stoned.

But enough of me, if that’s possible, and back to drug addicted parents and their drug addicted kids. In my family practice, the contrast between natural and adoptive parents has always amazed me. Within reason, and reason is stretched to the limit, natural parents can do what the f**k they like with their own kids, but adoptive parents are vetted, checked, assessed, interrogated, vetted again, and then, after a period of intense reappraisal, they may, if they’re lucky, make it onto a social services approved waiting list.

We don’t let young or old alike simply climb behind the wheel of a car and drive off into the blue yonder. They are tested on their theory, and then their practical aptitude, for the great adventures that lie ahead. If they fail, they have to retake the tests, again and again, until they reach the desired proficiency. It may not guarantee an accident free driving life, but at least it gives them a head start, and the rest of us some reassurance.

So why not parenting? Why not put ‘natural’ parents through the same hoops as adoptive parents? In my New Jerusalem, parents, single or otherwise, would be required to take a ‘parenting’ test. Habitual drug users would not be allowed to conceive until they were clean for at least two years. Prospective parents would have to pass theory and practical exercises in ‘parenting’ skills. They would have to show the necessary commitment to raising their children in the best interests of the children, with the love and support essential to give them the best possible start in life.

And if these ‘natural’ parents were to conceive without the required certificate of parenting competence, their offspring would be taken away from them and given to fully qualified ‘through the hoops’ adoptive parents, who would provide them with the love and support they crave and deserve. Spare us from another generation of drug addicts!

Postscript: At the risk of saying: “I told you so!” comes the news today [17th March 2008] that of the three children of drug addicted parents, one, aged two, has died, and the others, aged three and three months respectively, are seriously ill after swallowing their parents’ methadone prescription which, apparently, they mistook for cough medicine. How on earth does a three month old baby swallow anything not given to him by an adult? The world has gone mad!

ALL IN THE MIND

Who would have thought it? Certainly not me, living as I do in the real world of bad or inadequate parenting, failing schools, lack of discipline, lack of self esteem, lack of self motivation, and a total lack of a work ethic. So when these products of a failed social system go off the tracks, and I’m referring to feral youths from the bottom of the aquarium, the National Academy of Sciences, based in Melbourne Australia, have come up with a new defence to antisocial behaviour.

“May it please Your Honour, my client has an enlarged amygdala!” Developing this theme, learned counsel will go on the explain that “as children enter adolescence, their brains (sic) undergo radical rewiring to help them cope with all the changes their bodies are undergoing, including puberty and hormones.” With me so far? Then the Academy totally loses the plot by continuing: “Human brains continue to develop into a person’s early twenties, and many of the inbuilt neural safeguards against losing their tempers have yet to be put in place.” As I read this, I burst out laughing!

The problem about Academia is that, by their very definition, they lose touch with reality. It’s all graphs, and monitored behaviour, and smoke and mirrors. And sadly, nobody takes them seriously.

Kids need boundaries, not brain scans. They need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and they need discipline to reinforce this message. With the collapse of the family unit, the onrush of a secular society, and the abject failure of comprehensive education in this country, these kids from the bottom of the aquarium stand no chance at all, whatever the size of their amygdala.

If I am expected to take this ‘research’ seriously, then why haven’t we been confronted with this problem since the dawn of time? Why is antisocial behaviour a phenomenon of the last ten years if enlarged amygdala have been to blame?

To a cynic such as I, there’s a sneaking suspicion that Academia feels obliged to repay the large grants of public money by coming up with something, anything, to justify their continued existence. I have real doubts that this research will do anything to tackle antisocial behaviour, and by losing ourselves in the smoke and mirrors, those of us who should be setting an example are simply reneging on our responsibilities. In the words of the ditty:

“See the happy moron,
He doesn’t give a damn,
I wish I were a moron,
My God, perhaps I am.”