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Judge labels case 'PC gone mad' Poll… - Sally's Journal
April 8th, 2006
01:22 pm

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Judge labels case 'PC gone mad'

Who's right?

The Judge
11(15.5%)
The NUT
2(2.8%)
They're all mad
2(2.8%)
The media never tell you enough to be able to make a decent decision on these things.
16(22.5%)

Illegal things done in school (stealing, assault etc) should be dealt with by

The school
14(20.3%)
The police
10(14.5%)

Tick some boxes

It's political correctness gone mad!
1(1.5%)
People who break the law should be dealt with by the legal system, not sheltered by their schools
1(1.5%)
If people have settled an issue between themselves and become friends, the law has no place prosecuting for the crime
2(2.9%)
Bullies should be punished for bullying, not just if it coincidently happens to be racist bullying
12(17.6%)

(28 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
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From:simont
Date:April 8th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
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I would certainly think that things like this ought to be dealt with within the school in the first instance. If the police are called in at all it should be as a very last resort. Which is not to say that there aren't some illegal things in schools which are best dealt with by the police; I wouldn't have a hard time believing, for example, that a drugs incident ought to be brought straight to the police so that they can link it to other incidents and catch dealers outside the school, because that sort of issue extends beyond a single misbehaving pupil.

But good grief. Racist abuse is surely precisely the sort of thing you want to educate people out of rather than going straight to the law; you want to persuade people that it's wrong, not make them feel like martyrs who are having their opinions suppressed. Surely? I mean, no doubt there will be some people who persist in racism despite the best efforts to educate them otherwise, and eventually there will be no remaining option but to get the police involved if they persist in doing illegal things about it. But age 10 seems very early to be giving up to me.
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From:atreic
Date:April 8th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
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AIUI, in this case the school dealt with it, then the parents found out and demanded the police / legal system dealt with it again. (see here) So should parents not have the right to waste time like this? Or has the right thing happened, that the parents had the right to waste time and got laughed at for doing so? If that's the case, why are the NUT, who should be on the teachers / schools side, surely, supporting the parents? I don't see what's in it for them...
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From:robert_jones
Date:April 8th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
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I think the problem lies with the police and the CPS for pressing charges when it was not in the public interest to do so.
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From:simont
Date:April 8th, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and ObTheMediaNeverTellYouEnough: what exactly was the illegal action in this case? According to the report one kid just called another kid some names. If there was violence involved, that would certainly qualify as illegal, but there's no mention of it in the article. I hardly think insulting someone to their face counts as incitement to hatred, either. What was the charge in the case?
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From:robert_jones
Date:April 8th, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
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It is an offence (under s4A of the Public Order Act 1986) to use threatening, abusive or insulting words so as to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress. There is also a racially aggravated form of this offence under s31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
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From:sashajwolf
Date:April 8th, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
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I think I agree with this, and with robert_jones's comment that the prosecution is not in the public interest. Part of the problem here may be the recent abolition of the rule that children under 14 were presumed to be incapable of the mental element necessary to commit a crime; the presumption was rebuttable in the case of children between 10 and 14, so it was possible to prosecute them, but it is now somewhat easier. This probably means that we will see rather more of these cases while the CPS develops a sense for how judges are going to respond to the change.
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From:enismirdal
Date:April 8th, 2006 12:35 pm (UTC)
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I believe that kids say stupid hurtful things from time to time because they haven't always learned to consider the consequences. If we took them to court every time they didn't watch their mouth on a touchy issue, we'd have more kids in young offenders' institutions than out of them - I agree with the judge, that there are much better ways of teaching a kid that such behaviour is unacceptable than putting a young, silly child through a court case. Give him a detention, exclude him for a week if you really, really must, and make him do a mini-project on Middle-Eastern culture or something to educate him a bit more!

And yes, the fact the kids can reconcile and forgive is a wonderful thing and continuing to take the kid to court after the two involved parties have settled the matter seems to me to undermine the value of their reconciliation and the other child's forgiveness.

Disclaimer: this is my impression from the details of the case as I understand it. I haven't read up on it in great detail.
From:ex_robhu
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
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It's tricky.

As far as I am aware children are protected in the sense that they can't be prosecuted because of their age on the grounds that they are not responsible for their actions in the same way that an adult is. They're still in a learning mode and so don't truly understand the consequences of their actions.

I think the judge's words were poorly chosen in that the sound bite of it being political correctness 'gone mad' is just going to be picked up by the media, and most people won't get the gist of what he's saying.

Broadly speaking I agree with the judge.


If someone steals a schoolkids pencil does that mean we can have them arrested too?
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From:pjc50
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:25 pm (UTC)
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Children are only semi-protected by the law; remember the Bulger case.
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From:chess
Date:April 9th, 2006 08:26 am (UTC)
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Also, the full protection (no prosecution except for murder and similar) only extends to children up to the age of 10. Over the age of 10, there is no longer any protection (there used to be a 'rebuttable presumption' that children up to 14 didn't have criminal responsibility, which meant the prosecution had to prove that the child knew that what they were doing was wrong, but that's gone now). As the boy in the case is 11, there is no official protection from prosecution.
From:emarkienna
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
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If someone steals a schoolkids pencil does that mean we can have them arrested too?

Well the problem of trivial crimes exists for adults too. On the one hand, it would seem outrageous to arrest someone for stealing a pencil from work, or from a work colleague. But on the other hand, trying stealing a pencil from WHSmiths - I don't know, it's possible they might let you off because it's "only a pencil", but I'm not convinced enough to risk trying!

The point is though that this is no argument for saying the law should not be applied - just because it would seem silly to arrest someone for a trivial crime doesn't mean we shouldn't arrest them if they commit a more serious crime. I don't think that bullying counts as trivial, so the issue comes down to whether for schoolkids it should be handled by the schools or not.
From:emarkienna
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC)
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The "Political Correctness gone mad" comments drive me mad.

I don't think there is evidence of "PC" - the issue is whether it should be dealt with by the schools, or by the courts, and is there even evidence that only racist bullying is being referred to the courts, and not other issues?

Either someone thinks it's okay to bully people and call them "Paki, nigger and Bin Laden", or they don't. In the former case, they could call it political correctness, but then we can disagree with their view that racist bullying is okay. In the latter case, it's not a "PC" issue at all. I mean, if the kids got a good clouting for calling the judge fat, couldn't we say that that was also "PC gone mad"?

"PC gone mad" appears to be a phrase used to refer to anything that people think is "mad", whether or not it is actually a PC issue. Or in some cases, I suspect that people do believe it's okay to be racist, but they know they can't admit that outright, so they instead attack it with "PC gone mad", as if that makes it okay to be racist.

I also can't help wondering if, had this been a case where the boy had done something like attack a teacher, there'd have been an uproar if this boy had been let off because of his age. In fact, people would probably be claiming letting him off was "PC gone mad". I wouldn't be surprised if there is some overlap between the "PC gone mad" people in this case, and the "string 'em up / try them as an adult" brigade...
From:emarkienna
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)
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As to answer the question of whether the school or courts should handle things with schools - I think the school should try to handle it as much as possible, but that pupils should always have the right to press charges if they wish. But there's also the issue of treating children differently from adults by the police and the courts, so I think that should apply.

Having said that, when it comes to racism/bullying/harrassment cases though, is it common for people to be actually prosecuted for such things? I thought things like restraining orders were more usual (although applying one for two pupils in the same school obviously presents problems).

The judge's comment about the kids getting a "good clouting" in his day seemed very odd. Whilst it might have been an interesting observation, he clearly can't guarantee legal protection if any teacher decided to give a good clouting to kids from now on! Giving a good clouting is not an option, and that shouldn't have a bearing on the case.
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From:pjc50
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
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There is not a hard line between OK and not OK, and not all "not OK" actions are equally bad. Racist language is school is certainly bad, but I can't see that it should require criminal sanctions rather than school sanctions. Unless the school lacks effective disciplinary options.

Oh, and pupils and parents routinely assault teachers; http://newswww.bbc.net.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4400625.stm , http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4493881.stm . Very seldom is anything done about it.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:April 9th, 2006 02:19 am (UTC)
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They used to drive me mad, but I now think some people use political correctness like NewSpeak in 1984 -- if certain thoughts are inexpressible, then they are also unthinkable.  Unfortunately, it is possible to entertain a thought you can't express, and some people, finding themselves unable to express themselves in words, will use their fists.

The Victorians were squeamish about talking openly about sex and defecation, and their attitudes to either were far from healthy.  If we are squeamish about race, I fear our attitudes will be equally unhealthy.  In some instances, I think they are that unhealthy already.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
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I almost ticked that if an issue has been settled, it should not be the subject of a prosecution, but there are exceptions.  I think this is not one, though.  If the boys have sorted their differences, I'm not sure who benefits from the prosecution.

The main problem I have with the prosecution is that kids will say anything to hurt someone.  The kid may actually be racist, or he may simply have found the most hurtful thing he could say.  If the latter, then a disproportionate reaction will probably leave him jaundiced about racial issues for life -- not really a massive victory for the forces of right and good.
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From:pjc50
Date:April 8th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps you should add a radio button for "Which is worse, racial abuse or physical violence?"
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From:robert_jones
Date:April 8th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Like andrewwyld, I think there are some instances in which people should be prosecuted for crimes even though they have made up with the victim, because part of the point of having a public criminal justice system is that it is in the public interest for wrong-doers to be punished and it is not purely a private matter between themselves and the victims. Domestic violence cases spring to mind in this context. Although, of course, the non-cooperation of the victim can often make a prosecution very difficult.

On the other hand, there are some cases where it is just pointless interference for the criminal justice system to intervene in a situation where all the parties are happy.

This case, however, seems to me to be one where the involvement of the criminal justice system is very much taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And I think it may well be PC gone mad, because I suspect that no one in the CPS was willing to say, "Look, this is just silly," for fear of being thought soft on racism.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:April 9th, 2006 02:24 am (UTC)
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I hadn't thought of domestic violence, but it seems to be an exceptionally good example of a situation where one party can be easily cowed by the other; I'm reminded of a story I heard about when Roger Daltrey was helping out at a women's shelter and his main function turned out to be ejecting the boyfriends of abused women, because the women in question had smuggled them in.  I don't know why people act that way, but they do, and probably need protection from it.

I was more thinking of crimes whose seriousness constituted some kind of objective public wrong, but I'm not sure how such a crime would not be thought wrong by the victim without the above occurring.  Anyway, I agree.
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From:randomchris
Date:April 8th, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
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I don't the police should become involved in school matters unless it's a crime which would carry a potential prison sentence - basic name-calling, minor theft, and fighting in the playground in which nobody got seriously injured would thus be excluded, while still making it possible for the police to become involved if those escalated to harassment/stalking, major theft, or serious assault.
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From:naath
Date:April 8th, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
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If I went up to a random stranger in the street and started calling them racist things then I suspect that I would be arrested - this is good; I clearly *shouldn't* go arround calling people racist names *even if* said person has actually done something to annoy me there is no call to use such terms. I don't see why an individual should be let off from learning the lesson that racist abuse in unnaceptable just because they happen to be 11. Yes, you are going to need a different form of punishment (11 year olds probably can't pay fines) but that doesn't mean that they should be otherwise differently treated.

I don't see why society persists in viewing younsters as incapable of excercising their brains and realising that some things are *wrong*. Learning that racism is *bad* is not *hard* (unlike many things that we might want to teach children), it's simple and any child capable of shouting racial abuse is capable of remembering that racial abuse is Bad And Wrong.
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From:andrewwyld
Date:April 9th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC)
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Which seems to require an answer to the question -- why wouldn't one be arrested for approaching someone and harrassing them for any other reason?  Racism is bad because it causes people to treat some people badly.  Treating people badly isn't bad because it's racist.  If the root of the wrongness of racism is inhumanity, why aren't we as vigilant for all forms of inhumanity?
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From:illusive_shelle
Date:April 8th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
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There seems to be a few different issues complicating the matter beyond a simple A is right, B is wrong scenario.

1. There is the issue of age of the offender and the victim.
2. There whether the school or the police should deal with the offence.
3. There is the offense being of a racist nature.

I believe that little kids do need a stern hand. However, I don't understand why the kid couldn't have 'kid-type' punishments, be they detentions, extra homework, or even a stern warning from a gruff policeman. Children are still at the age where they can learn and reform, unlike many adults who are too idiotic set in their ways to change so quickly. Still, I believe on minor offenses such as harassment, a warning should be the first step. (If the problem had escalated to a physical nature, then be harsher, but for most 11 year olds, a good bollocking by the police would have a wonderous effect.)

It does sound like playground bullying to me. The school has dealt with it successfully by the sound of it, and hence the law shouldn't have got involved in my opinion. Given that name-calling goes on in many schools across the country and the police haven't got involved in all of those cases. At the very least, the school should be given a chance to deal with problems that have arisen purely within the school if they are not causing physical harm to students, and if successful the problem left there.

As for the racial part of the accusation, I have two thoughts about it. The first is that racism is bad and should be combatted. The second thought is that it should be given no less and no more importance than any other form of discrimination. The clever kids get picked on. The ugly or fat kids get picked on. For generations, children have picked on someone for being different. So the act of discrimination being performed by children is nothing new.

However, would the case have reached court if it was about Kid A calling kid B fat and spotty for the same period of time? Somehow, I doubt it. So that begs the question on why a racism case has reached so far. Is someone scared of being accused of being racist if the case doesn't come to court?

I don't condone racism, but then I don't think it should be treated as any better or worse a crime than any other form of ageism, sexism or other discrimination. When I see all of those come to court, I will probably still approve of the judge that throws them out of court as not being in the public interest. After all, there are better ways of dealing with petty playground spats.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:April 9th, 2006 09:28 am (UTC)
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Is someone scared of being accused of being racist if the case doesn't come to court?

Almost certainly, yes. Which is why the judge decried it as "PC gone mad".

(I remember Robin Silvapalan trying the same thing with CUSU, to turn an illegal political motion into a racism issue...)
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From:mhw
Date:April 9th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
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I think that if I were going to do a poll like this, I'd probably go for scales rather than tickyboxes. So many of those answers I'd have awarded a quarter- or half-tick to.
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From:chess
Date:April 9th, 2006 08:17 am (UTC)
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Whether it should be the school or the police depends on the severity. Persistant or serious theft or criminal damage, assault occasioning ABH/GBH/wounding, rape, murder and things of that nature should be dealt with by the police - it is vitally important that the child does not do it again, and being taken to court might provide them with the shock they need to clean up their act. Petty theft (especially where the items are retrieved), graffiti and other minor vandalism, common assault and battery, these should be dealt with by the school in the first instance (although persistant offenders might need to be referred to the police), because the harm they cause to others is not really enough for the expense (and trauma to the child) of the police attention and court proceedings.

There are probably some cases where people who have settled and become friends ought to be prosecuted nevertheless, although I can't think of any offhand; it is also quite hard to tell in many cases whether the victim has really become 'friends' with the offender or has just been browbeaten into a settlement and a pretense (or has been mentally damaged by the attack - for instance cases of rape and kidnapping may end with the victim becoming attached to the offender in an unhealthy manner which does not mean the offender should not be punished).
From:writinghawk
Date:April 9th, 2006 10:55 am (UTC)
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I ticked that both the judge and the NUT were right, but I think the NUT were more right, in that they expressed themselves in measured and appropriate terms – whereas the judge was saying something probably right but in an outrageous and inappropriate way, which was just what the NUT were complaining about. I'm depressed by how few votes the NUT got in this poll for being completely sensible. The conclusion that they weren't supporting the teachers, by the way, is completely wrong: they were. (And note from your other link that the NASUWT were taking much the same line.)

Specifically, the interviewee on the broadcast linked from the BBC page pointed out repeatedly that schools take these matters very seriously and have extensive procedures in place, and that even though we don't know the details this (i) went on for a period of many months and (ii) must have been much more serious than people are assuming, as the police would not have taken the decision to prosecute a 10-year-old lightly. I.e. she defended the school against the implication that they had done nothing or abdicated responsibility to the police. She agreed that prosecution seemed extreme and the judge may have been right to refer the case back to the CPS to reconsider; agreed that the CPS should ask themselves whether all other avenues had been exhausted before the decision to prosecute; and pointed out that they, being in full possession of the facts, ought to be able to make that decision. Her criticism of the judge was of the terms in which he expressed himself, which as several people have pointed out above, were bizarre to say the least. She suggested that judges ought to be aware of the effect of their comments and that, especially just before an election where the extreme right were fielding lots of candidates, referring to a prosecution for racism as "political correctness gone mad" was unhelpful. I'd be interested to know what of this people who didn't tick the "NUT" box disagreed with.

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From:smhwpf
Date:April 9th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
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I would say that the judge is wrong in calling it "political correctness" gone mad, in that I think that sort of abuse needs to be treated very seriously; Asians are subject to very serious abuse and violence, which that sort of playground thing could easily be the beginning of it.

What is crazy is the fact that it was taken to court, rather than dealt with by the school, which seems to have happened successfully anyway. Prosecuting the kid serves absolutely no purpose in these circumstances. That's not "political correctness", which I think is a fairly meaningless term invented largely to justify racism and sexism. I'm not sure what to call it, other than stupidity, possibly authoritarian stupidity, but I think the "PC" appellation just muddies the issues.
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