Monday, 15 August 2011

Justice & Compassion

It’s a tumultuous time for England, for the United Kingdom and the planet as a whole. Globally, we’ve had protests and full-on riots, uprisings and rebellions, unemployment levels are very dodgy indeed, people are starving to death, caught up in a civil war nobody seems to care about, and we’re on the verge of that feared double-dip recession, because if you look beyond the rhetoric of politicians, you’ll find every country on Earth is essentially bankrupt.

Let’s face facts… things are going to get worse before they get better.

What is not going to help make things better is Western countries being transformed (or perhaps further transformed) into police states in order to deal with the inevitable increase in protests against our governments, or our courts of law handing out knee-jerk sentences in order to quell dissent.

So, the topic of today’s blog is ‘Justice and Compassion’ and why the problems we are facing today will never be solved when the two are separated.

Charlie Gilmour, aged 21, was sentenced to 16-months imprisonment in July for taking part in protests - in London, last December - against the colossal rise in student fees… and convicted of kicking a window and throwing a bin ‘in the direction’ of a Royal convoy.

He was ‘intoxicated by drink and drugs’ on the day and although things got a bit out of hand, it’s hardly crime of the century, is it?

Much was made of the fact he was seen swinging from a Union Flag at the Cenotaph, but as much as it was mentioned - and even though he wrote a very humble apology admitting it was him photographed - it wasn’t something he was charged for… though he appears to have been judged for it by the courts, by the media and by the general public.

I would argue that it’s a disgrace to the memory of those people that the Cenotaph represents, that it could be used so cynically by the media to rouse the emotions of the general public.

The Fallen died for our freedom.

At the time of Charlie’s run-around, there were tens of thousands of peaceful protesters – many of them children – being charged by police on horseback and ‘kettled’ into areas which were then cordoned-off. They were kept there in the freezing cold, in the middle of Winter, for hours.

The freedom that The Fallen died for includes the right to peaceful protest, and that’s what was happening, until the police decided to scare the living daylights out of children and adults alike, risking crushes and trampling as the crowds were forced into smaller and smaller areas.

This is an account, published on the BBC News website a day later (December 10th, 2010), from a 17-year-old girl called Rachel Bergen:

"We were right at the front. There was a huge crowd behind us so we were pushed forward. There was nothing we could do about it.

"They [the police] saw us coming towards them, these teenage girls who wanted to go home.

"They didn't show any mercy whatsoever. They threw around my friends who were just 17 year old slim girls. They were beating my friends with batons.

"They didn't show any sympathy in their voice and I didn't see anything in their eyes.

"It was awful. I've never experienced anything like it."

No wonder tensions were high.

Twitter lit up with outrage, watching the live footage of this happening on the TV and Internet. If everyone in the UK had a teleportation device in their house, there would have been ten million of us on the streets of London that night.

Charlie’s 16-month sentence isn’t justice. It’s revenge. They threw the book at him and made him a scapegoat.

If he’d committed those same crimes on the streets of Carlisle, while ‘socially confused’ on a Saturday night, he’d have got a caution, or maybe a criminal damage charge and a fine.

It’s not as if he had a long string of previous convictions and - exasperated at his continuance to show disregard for the law - the judge decided, finally, to give him a bit of prison time. He was of previously good character. He’d just finished second year of degree studies.

Charlie, with his Mum and Dad
How could any judge handing out this sentence possibly argue that it was for the public good to keep this guy incarcerated - at the cost to the tax payer of over £100 per day - when he was clearly repentant and embarrassed by his behaviour, admitted his guilt, and there were a whole host of other, non-custodial options available to deal with him?

Charlie threw a bin and ‘alarmed’ a few people. Okay, so those alarmed people may have included ‘Big Charlie’ (aka the future King of England) and his wife, but my binman alarms me every second Thursday at stupid o’clock in the morning, throwing bins around. Will I press charges? No.

Why should the public status of the person alarmed affect in any way at all the process of justice? Aren’t we all the same in the eyes of the law?

Likewise, why are judges bowing to media and political pressure when applying such ludicrous sentencing? Even now, in the aftermath of the riots in England over the past week, judges are being told to jail those convicted of involvement.

There are also plans in the pipeline to evict these people from any council properties, and even the suggestion that they could lose benefit payments.

That is, surely, just making a bad situation worse?

When you take compassion out of the justice system,  it becomes a machine without a heart… it processes people like a computer would, rather than applying humanity, in which case the bigger picture would be looked at, with empathy, and a solution that benefits everyone would be pursued.

Justice without compassion is simply revenge, and that’s not the sort of foundation that a society should be built upon.

What also gets my goat (not literally, as I don’t have one) is that Charlie’s father wrote to his local Member of Parliament, Francis Maude MP, but it was reported that Maude was ‘not minded to take a stance’.

MPs are not masters over their constituents… they are servants. They are voted for and elected by the people, to represent the people, and not just the people who voted for them, not just the people they agree with or like… but everyone in their constituency.

Charlie has clearly been given an inflated prison sentence, and – in the interests of true justice, human rights and freedom – his MP should be straight on the case… not cow-towing to his party or the papers.

Charlie Gilmour should be taken back before the courts, given an appropriate, sensible, community sentence and you bet, he’ll never be standing in front of a magistrate or judge again for the rest of his life.

Behind every great man...
I’ve written about Gary McKinnon before on my blog, but again, compassion seems to be absent from his treatment, both by the government and the courts.

To remind you, Gary hacked in to various US government computer systems in 2001/2002… systems without passwords… and he left a few messages. He didn’t trash or rob anything. He was curious, looking for repressed clean energy technology and information on UFOs.

Gary has Asperger’s Syndrome, and this sort of obsessive behaviour is common in people with such a condition.

His crime is akin to him looking around for ATMs that haven’t been locked, then, finding one, leaving a note saying: “I can see your money!”

He didn’t actually steal anything, yet he’s facing a sentence as harsh as if he’d walked into a branch of his local bank, opened up on the customers with a shotgun, then emptied and ran off with the contents of the safe.

To put it in perspective, Anders Breivik – who committed the atrocities in Norway in July – faces a maximum sentence of 21 years for murdering 76 people. That’s a little over three months for each person he killed.

If extradited, Gary faces 70 years in prison for accessing ‘top secret’ computer networks… which were connected to the Internet with entry gateways left wide open. Not that ‘top secret’, then?

At the time of Gary’s poking around, it was clear that the US government’s cyber security was woefully lacking, and that embarrassed them… so, again, they are using a mask of justice to hide the fact that they want revenge. They want to save face, to make an example of him… and they still want to do this, nearly ten years later.

Like when the doctor told me he suspected I had cancer, the waiting must be the worst thing; an almost unbearable strain on Gary, his mother, Janis Sharp, and all their family.

I don’t know how Janis does it each day, and after every knock-back in her tireless campaign to have her son’s extradition stopped… she just gets back up, hides the tears and the heartache and marches on. She’s powered by a limitless fuel of love.

If rehabilitation, rather than vengeance, were at the heart of justice (and it should be), this would have been sorted out years ago in the UK courts – again, most likely with a fine or a community sentence – and Gary would have been at liberty to get his life in order and make a contribution to society, rather than being trapped in the limbo his life is right now.

The governmental and media stance that all of the people involved in the recent rioting should be jailed is ludicrous, short sighted and – if the courts are bowing to politics and the flame-fanning of the newspapers – an aberration of justice.

It would cost in excess of £300,000 ($488,000) to jail ten people for a year, yet if you gave all of them community orders and invested that same amount of money in community projects that encourage positive change, you could help hundreds of people – you could give them opportunities and hope to transform their lives, which in turn could change the fortunes of generations to come.

Compassion. Empathy. Humanity. Separate those qualities from justice, and what example does that set for the rest of society? Isn’t that exactly what was lacking from the rioters last week?

An eye for an eye and the whole world becomes blind.

Let’s open our eyes and hearts wide, and let’s be part of the solution.


  1. Bravo, Les, for your continued insight into the subject of compassion.

    As the troubles of the world continue, it's something we need more of, not less.

    Compassion is something that we learn, but if the lessons we see from those in power consistently preach judgement, blame, and incarceration, then it's not surprising that we become the product of an intolerant society.

    Your last line sums it up beautifully. "Let’s open our eyes and hearts wide, and let’s be part of the solution." The alternative is to live in a world filled with hate, anger, and vengeance.


  2. I'm sorry, Les, I cannot go along with much of what you write here, and neither would those suffering from the rioting. I'm not speaking of financial loss although that is important to those who have worked all hours every day for years to build up a business. The emotional suffering of facing thugs with knives and other weapons, wielding fire bombs and laughing at the distress being caused, refusing to let injured people receive aid, is horrific. Imagine if your mum had been caught up in it, if your home had been set alight, How do you think those young people who lost their homes and possessions feel? And that poor women (as photographed) who had to jump from an upper window to escape the flames? And all others who came close to death? Lives were lost, people seriously injured — mentally as well as physically. You write 'The Fallen Died For Our Freedom' but those brave people did not give their lives to promote chaos in our streets. Don't confuse peaceful protest with anarchy. Every time a peaceful protest is organised, those who promote the march know full well that they will draw in those bent on causing as much disorder as they can muster, with no thought of the consequences. I am all for peaceful protests but if some get drunk and cause mayhem then they deserve to be punished.
    If someone you loved happened to be in a car surrounded by aggressive protesters yelling 'Off with their heads' while smashing the car windows and reaching inside, would you think it just a schoolboy prank? In some countries they would have received the death sentence and in others maybe loss of limbs or whippings for some of the things done. Certainly, the crime would not be treated lightly.
    You cannot compare our rioters with those where they are fighting for freedom from terror. Those fallen in world wars saved us from tyrannic rule. The Cenotaph is sacred to many people, As we all know the sentences handed out is reduced by time spent in custody, and the rest greatly reduced for good behaviour. There are many who think he got off lightly for his behaviour (misdemeanours you may think but crimes non-the-less).
    As for the sentencing going on at present, I think some of the sentencing appears harsh but then I do not know all the facts, I assume the magistrates do. They can only give what is enshrined in law. In some cases it has been quite lenient (One day in clink which has already been served) — others have had to be referred to a higher court. It seems harsh to me that a family can be evicted from their home, but then we all know that some tenants give their neighbours hell and maybe getting them out of the area will bring a sigh of relief, but also give the evicted family a shock of realisation?

  3. Continued from previous comment:

    What I hope will come of this will be more thought about community projects and education. I feel keenly for the young. The present system where academic education is pressed on all students needs changing. Many youngsters need a more hands-on approach. What a shame even the creative subjects seem to have become more academic. Years ago, when children left school at fourteen, they had been taught woodwork, metalwork, needlework, cookery, and other useful arts and crafts. Pay would be low when starting work (useful for some employers) but at least at an early age, we had the pride of 'working for our living' and, with hard work, maybe get somewhere.
    I am all for community service rather than prison but I am not sure it is a cheaper alternative to prison.
    As adults we should look to ourselves as to what sort of example we are showing the young. They, and we all, have been let down badly by MP's and those in top positions. So much money-grabbing all round, by celebrities as well as bankers and the like. It is great how communities have got together to show a moral (and spiritual?) lead. Perhaps ideas will come forward for ways and means to resolve peer pressure and lack of respect. Also meaningful activities for those without work — especially young people.
    The sharp divide between low and high income families has grown even larger over the last ten to twenty years. This is shameful and needs urgent addressing. Every worker should be rewarded according to his or her contribution to the workplace. I recall some years ago that for a while every worker in the country was allowed the same rise (I think it was £1 a week) no matter how high or low the job. Just for a short period it seemed a just thing to do.
    And, perhaps those who draw unemployment pay should be asked to contribute in some way to the community for the benefit of themselves and others out of work?
    Years ago, school holidays were often taken up with potato picking and the like. This put money in youngsters pockets. Pay for a job well done is far more rewarding than hand-outs.
    I am all for Compassion and Justice but it must never be wishy-washy. Seeking to redress wrongs is at the heart of true justice.

  4. Ah Les, ever the voice of reason. Yet, this time, I fear a voice crying in the wilderness. It always amazes me the stupidity that governments, and the masses, will commit when whipped up by a self serving media. It is good to know that a few can actually see through the smoke screen.

    Bless, Pru

  5. I love this blog, I hear you loud and clear, sometimes, I too wonder about the justice system. It seems justice is a misused word where people in power are concerned, they are totally devoid of any compassion.

    Recently somewhere in the U.S. a woman who is homeless decided to enroll her child into a school district which she does not reside in, she used her friend's address....authorities got word about the incident...they immediately took her child out of school, placed him in foster care and took her to jail for lying. Her friend was evited from her low income housing and has lost the right to apply for low income housing for the rest of her life. The parent may face up to 20 years in jail if convicted of fraud.

    This is just disgusting especially when I read stories about murderers, rapist and child molesters who are given reduced sentences or probabtion. What is the world coming to? More importantly, authorities do not seem to care whatsoever about the impact an arrest would have on the family for something so minuscule. I really believe many people are lacking in the areas of mercy and compassion. I have seriously come to the dismal realization that many people are selfish and that's just the bottom line.

    That is a dreadful misuse of power.
    However, it would be wrong to collect vile instances of misjustice and assume that is happening in Britain. It is not. We do have our problems here (recently there have been cases of parents being assumed not guilty of child abuse by social and care workers leading to actual cases being undetected until too late.) Getting a balance of authority power is not easy. Too long young gangs have ruled city areas with people afraid to go out at night. Hardly surprising then if we have a backlash by the general public when youngsters riot — egged on and assisted by violent criminals. Those guilty youngsters need to know right from wrong. A sharp shock is needed. I know from teaching that the majority of youngsters respond to fairness when they have done wrong. 'Getting away with it' only causes more bad behaviour. So does over-reaction to minor misdeeds. Children need consistency and caring/loving relationships and many do not get it from their homes. Society as a whole can help by creating an environment of inclusiveness. This is where COMPASSION is paramount and much needs to be done.
    The older criminal element who took advantage of the situation must be brought to justice otherwise there is NO justice especially for those suffering from severe loss.
    I do not go along with Milliband for the sooner this matter is dealt with the better and plans to improve society and what is just for all can go ahead. It is up to individuals and groups to help change things for the better. All get involved in the work of caring.

  7. I am so taken with this blog and the story behind it.. I truely feel bad for Charlie and his family. In USA too some law and order justice comes down hard,trying to she everyone they are hard on crime.. a man! geez. election time must be coming up.. anyway as i can figure.. the only truely proof you are a MAN/human is compassion and Justice.. thank you for the touching Great blog dear
    Laura Novak

  8. Hi Les

    I've been saying the same thing in my blog and on various other internet sites and it's incredible - and shocking - how many people just don't get it. Many people are waking up - but some of the attitudes I've seen over the last week or so demonstrates how many, many more are still asleep. Great post, beautifully articulated.

  9. Gladys Hobson said "...It seems harsh to me that a family can be evicted from their home, but then we all know that some tenants give their neighbours hell and maybe getting them out of the area will bring a sigh of relief..."

    Do you have any evidence to show that the people who have been threatened with eviction because of their participation in recent riots also give their neighbours hell?

  10. This is an amazing read..Im hooked. (harlee_rider from twitter)

  11. You spin the facts if the case so that you're readers do not have a true picture. This chap and his fellow rioters are not the poor suppressed. Yes they have to pay university fees now, but this has ever been the case in other countries. For Mr Gilmour this will be no hardship, he was just looking for attention. Ripping and burning flags would have got him a much greater sentence in other places he is lucky he lives in such a tolerant society

  12. Compassion, at least, in my opinion, is not the fundamental core of the justice system when it comes to those who break the law. Compassion tends to be what gets us into trouble to begin with. As an example, back home, a man who beat a young mother he was dating to death, and left her son half dead himself, a boy who had already been born with challenges that would leave him in a wheelchair his entire life, would, in a compassionate system, be sentenced to less than a decade, and get out in even less time than that only to be put back for trying to kill his next girlfriend. Very little compassion would be shown for the memory of my late aunt, her son, or my grandfather who found her.

    No, at the heart of true justice is rehabilitation, and for that I tend to agree with you, but for different reasons, that if this is a clear picture, then it seems to be a gross miscarriage. In neither of these situations that you list does it seem that rehabilitation is at the center of the sentences handed down. Neither would see to it that these people would become contributing members of society. In fact, in both cases they seem to be the exact contrary. If, as stated, Charlie was on drugs and alcohol, the obvious need is for him to be sentenced to some form of substance abuse counselling and community service because he obviously has a problem that needs to be rectified. Likewise, in the other case, prison is not what is needed, but some form of justice that helps for Gary to be in better control of himself.

    The problem isn't a matter of cost, the 100 a day you list, for example, though I would venture to speculate that number is somewhat low from what I know of budgetting. It's a matter of how that money is being spent. If it is spent on either keeping the most dangerous of offenders off the street, those people at the highest probability of reoffending and adversely changing the lives of those around them, or in actually helping people who are just those who made the wrong decision, a poor choice or a stupid mistake but are not terribly likely to be a repeat offender if given the chance to atone, then it is money well spent. It just does not sound like that's the case her and it is a shame to the point of being a travesty.

    Courts love to set examples in cases like these. The problem is, as you set examples, you set precedents, and it becomes easier and easier to move that line, to be harsher and harsher. When that happens Justice is no longer tempered with common sense, and you are right, it ceases to become justice at all, and nothing more than revenge.

    My two cents, take it for what it's worth.

  13. Re: Janis Sharp & Gary McKinnon - I applaud your words regarding this family and love the analogies. I only wish the American government, the UK government (particularly Theresa May) would read this, but alas, I fear it would have no affect. I fear sometimes that after years of governmental torment that even if Gary is set 'free', he may not ever be able to enjoy life again. But then, he does have the most amazing mum in the world and I know she will always do whatever it takes to insure the best for Gary. Thank you for blogging this, Les. Well said!