TELL NO LIES

I hear rumours that the Government is planning to introduce lie detectors, or polygraphs, into the equation when determining if a sex offender is ready to be released into the community.

OMG! What next?

And exactly how will it work?  There are several thousand sex offenders in prison convicted of a variety of offences from simply viewing underage porn on the Internet, all the way up the scale to rapists and murderers.  Presumably each and every one would be subjected to a lie detector test.  So a whole new layer of testers would have to be grafted onto an already overloaded prison system to administer these tests and report their findings back to whomever is remotely interested.

And more to the point, do they work, and are they foolproof? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.  If you have a spare three weeks with absolutely nothing else to do, Google ‘polygraph’ and you will get 358,000 search results.  A fair proportion of these question the reliability of lie detectors, and rightly so. Interestingly, there are some websites specialising in how to beat a lie detector test, in much the same way as Damien Lewis in ‘Homeland’.

Sex offenders get special treatment in prison.  They are kept apart from other prisoners, and are subjected to a barrage of courses designed to ‘cure’ them of their perverse predilections. So called experts crawl all over them from the day they first enter the prison system to the day they leave, and where prisoners have received a sentence of 4 years or more, they are at the mercy of the Parole Board before they can be released.  These experts range from social workers, psychologists and pyschiatrists, through to landing officers, the governor and Uncle Tom Cobblers.  They are poked and prodded and pushed and shoved throughout their entire incarceration, so that when they present themselves before the Parole Board, they are squeaky clean in mind, body and soul.

But if these rumours are to be believed, this is not enough, so bring on the polygraph. Even if such degrading treatment does not infringe the offender’s human rights, it is bound to be a stressful experience, and stress is the one indicator above all others that the polygraph is designed to record.

Finally, to ensure that the offender has a fair hearing in front of the Parole Board, if he had failed the polygraph test, as his legal adviser I would require a second opinion from an expert, and possibly a retest, adding further to time and expense and, almost inevitably, a postponement of his hearing.  Booking a Parole Board hearing within a reasonable time frame simply doesn’t happen, and in my experience, the time frame is usually 18 months from postponement to rehearing.

Nobody wants a sex offender to be released into the community to commit further sex offences, but no system devised can provide an iron clad guarantee.  The system presently in place is good enough if followed correctly, and adding a lie detector test will achieve nothing.  Worse still, it may lead to an injustice.

Leave well alone!

SUMMARY JUSTICE

Emboldened by the success of weekend and all night courts to deal with last summer’s riots, the government is proposing an extension to this scheme to expedite the due and legal process.  This has caused the usual outbreak of hand wringing by the gaggle of small firm high street solicitors who depend on petty crime to keep the cash registers ringing at the expense of the long suffering tax payer.  We are told that the average petty criminal case takes as long as five months from arrest to disposal by the courts, and for no obvious reason.

I have long argued that the due process of law is unnecessarily protracted, and nobody is the winner.  The classification of crime into summary and indictable is an obvious example of outdated practices, where a shoplifter charged with the theft of a packet of teabags can elect trial by jury, which is simply ridiculous.  In the bad, or good, old days, depending on your perspective, when theft was a capital offence, and where the miscreant could be hanged by the neck until dead, or worse still, transported to Australia and exposed to an unremitting diet of ‘Neighbours’, there was an argument for trial by jury.  But today, the average shoplifter faces a fine of £50 plus court costs, and is on his way back to Tescos before the hour is out.

Am I alone in believing that the ‘cash and carry’ solicitors plying their wares on the bottom of the aquarium are in it for the money? If so, they and their clients need a reality check. Better still, they should stay out of the arena in the best interests of their clients and the long suffering tax payer.

In the Magistrates’ Court, mitigation is simply window dressing, a chance for the miscreant to hear something nice said about him, a rare event in his troubled and purposeless life. The magistrates have a flow chart which they are obliged to follow come what may, and if the flow chart directs that the shoplifter should be fined £50, not even the Almighty is going to deflect them from their duty.

Summary justice does not mean justice denied, as some of the hand wringers would have us believe. It simply means getting on with it.  I cannot imagine for one moment that where an innocent man has been wrongly accused, summary justice will make it more likely that he will be unjustly convicted. And even if the magistrates get it hopelessly wrong, there is an established appeal process where the evidence that led to the conviction can be reviewed.

Delayed justice can mean justice denied for both the accuser and the accused, as memories fade with the passage of time, and in some cases, the accuser gives up in sheer exasperation and doesn’t turn up for the trial.

I do not hear complaints of justice denied following the prosecution of those involved in last summer’s riots, and if the courts got it right then, there is no reason to suppose they can’t get it right now.