Politicians are failing to keep the promise of tough justice

REVELATIONS earlier this week of the number of offenders who were convicted of crimes and not sent to prison doubtless surprised many of us.

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Fewer convicted offenders are  sent to prison  than many  people expect
Fewer convicted offenders are sent to prison than many people expect

It was revealed that in England and Wales, fewer than 50% of those convicted of sexual offences, violent crimes and burglaries go to prison.

We have become numbed to the political promises of those seeking power, regarding being tough on crime, or indeed, tough on the causes of crime.

This political rhetoric promises the population much of what it wants to hear about the criminal justice system, yet it delivers little meaningful change.

Over the last decade both the numbers of people in prison and the average length of sentences have remained virtually unchanged, despite political assurances to the contrary.

While the figures released this week applied south of the border, there will be little material difference in the Scottish figures.

This leaves us with a fundamental question. Is the criminal justice system fit for purpose?

Not according to Sir Keir Starmer, the former director of Public prosecutions for England and Wales.

The recently retired chief prosecutor alleges that wave after wave of Government cuts are undermining the justice system.

Justice, like civil obedience, is formed from a body of enacted or custom-ary rules, which society recognises as binding.

When and if it ceases to become so, we no longer have civil obedience and we no longer have justice.

In Scotland, there have been previous reports of more sex offenders being released on to Scotland's streets and while many may be regarded as low risk, the perception of society is that the system, at its core, is soft.

If perception becomes reality, then the reality is that most of the public would expect those convicted of sexual or violent offences, burglary or other serious crimes, to serve at least some part of a custodial sentence.

Perhaps the volume and nature of these crimes don't merit such a sentence, however the justice system remains shrouded in mystery and managed by those who seem incapable of holding a common sense dialogue with the public they are appointed to represent.

The judiciary is seen as old fashioned, insular and hopelessly out of touch.

If that perception is untrue, then those in charge of our legal system need to explain in much better terms to the public just how in-tune they are with public opinion and the means by which justice is dispensed.

OUR justice system still uses the term "life", when in reality, the average life sentence in Scotland means 13 years in custody.

Life imprisonment is not even close to the meaning of those words, to those receiving such a sentence.

Our sentencing policy lacks clarity and it lacks transparency and it appears ill equipped to achieve justice on behalf of victims, their families or the public. It shouldn't be.

Having visited many prisons over many years, I'm not in favour of tough regimes or more punishment.

In my opinion, being in prison is the punishment. I do not believe that people should be sent to prison, and then further punished.

I am a firm believer in rehabilitation rather than retribution. However, society needs to be reassured, feel protected and be confident that those responsible for such crimes are dealt with in a way that allows them to feel safe.

I am not convinced that this remains the case.

We need a more robust and transparent sentencing policy, clearer judgments and a more responsive legal system, so that we might be reassured that justice is not only done, but that it is seen to be done.

Jessie's secret: eat your porridge

GREAT news, on two fronts. First, Scotland's oldest woman Jessie Gallan was 108th on January 2. Jessie is a shining example to those who would wish a long and healthy life.

The second piece of good news is that she attributes her long life to a daily bowl of porridge, with salt. Why is this good news? Well, for 25 years I have started every day with salted porridge.

Given the frailties of our legal system, it would appear that doing porridge, may actually be good for us.

Wave the white flag says Jack

FORMER First Minister Lord Jack McConnell, below, this week called for a truce in political activity during the Commonwealth Games this summer.

This call for political altruism was condemned by both sides. Given that this is the first time both sides in the independence referendum have agreed on anything, perhaps Jack has stumbled upon something.

But separating politics from sporting events is impossible.

Who can forget the image of Chris Hoy draped in the Union Jack at London 2012, nor last year's unedifying spectacle of Alex Salmond waving the Wimbledon Saltire behind David Cameron's back.

The timing of the referendum was chosen to follow this sporting event, so it was always unlikely it would remain free of politics.

Draping ourselves in the flag can be as unpopular as it is popular. It depends on which way the political wind's blowing.

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