Isn't it great to see the courts getting tough with those responsible for the riots?
On the day after the riots, I sent out an email to the several thousand families in Croydon Central I have an email address for asking what they would like me to say if I was called to speak in the debate in Parliament that Thursday. One of the most common responses was that people wanted to see those responsible properly punished - though many were extremely sceptical about whether that would happen.
It's great to see that it is actually happening. No-one wants to see mob justice - sentences need to be consistent with the law of the land - but I think the courts are right to consider the fact that these offences took place as part of a breakdown in public order as an aggravating factor and hence impose a tougher sentence on someone who, for example, stole several bottles of drink from a looted shop last Monday night than on someone who committed the same offence a week previously. We need to send out a very clear message that this kind of behaviour is not going to be tolerated as well as addressing the underlying issues that contributed to people behaving in this way.
I've spent most of the day defending the tough approach the courts are taking against lawyers who seem to think those responsible are bring treated harshly. There was a particularly memorable moment on BBC London when Jeremy Dean QC said "I simply don't understand why Mr Barwell suggested there is a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system", reducing me to laughter (which was rather rude of me - I apologise Jeremy). There's some great research here which, among lots of other fascinating insights into attitudes towards crime and punishment, shows over 80% of the general public and victims of crime and 80% of police officers think sentencing for convicted offenders is too lenient (only two officers out of 500 interviewed thought sentences passed in cases they had worked on had in general been too harsh). How can those who work in our criminal justice system be so out of touch with public opinion?
The truth is most people want to see the kind of sentencing we have seen in the last few days not as a short-term response to the riots but as a permanent fixture of our criminal justice system. We have been too soft on those who break the law for too long.
One of the problems with politics in this country is that we are often presented with false choices - we either punish those who committed crimes on 8th August or we address underlying causes. Why can't we do both and while we are it reform our prisons so that while people are in prison we addressing the underlying issues - lack of education, mental health problems, drug or alcohol abuse - that contribute to their offending.