Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Question of Judgement

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Question of Judgement

Article excerpt

MUGGING PEOPLE FOR their mobile phones is a nasty crime, all the more since the victims are increasingly youngsters. It is right that the law should not be overlenient in its treatment of offenders. But when the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, recommended that phone thieves should be sentenced to up to three years in jail in cases where no weapons were used, he went way over the top. Apart from the risk of turning teenage tearaways into hardened criminals for stealing items that may be worth as little as [pound]50, and the difficulty of finding enough space to accommodate the perpetrators of a crime of which there were 700,000 cases last year, there is a question of principle. For a judge to lay down sentencing policy in this way is as unusual as it is unhealthy. Normally it is politicians, like the former Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard, who play to the gallery in this way.

There seems an element of politicking in Lord Woolf's sudden sortie. His words are all the more surprising since he has long been associated with liberal causes and an enlightened approach to sentencing. It is odd that a judge who has insisted on the minute observance of the human rights of suspected international terrorists should come down like a ton of bricks on teenage snatchers of mobile phones. We can only assume that in inveighing against a crime that is in the headlines, he was seeking to readjust his image in the eyes of the Government and of the denizens of the public bar.

Such balancing acts and lack of consistency are worrying in so senior a figure.

The point about judges, Confucius really did say, is that they should be judicious. The point about Lord Chief Justices, we would add, is that they should be even more judicious than their subordinates. Lord Woolf's outburst on mobile phone muggers reflects poorly on his judgment.

Antisocial patients THE PUBLIC HAS important responsibilities, as well as rights, when using the health service. We report today on the staggering number of appointments with doctors that patients choose to miss. This causes huge disruption to hospitals and GP surgeries - and a substantial waste of public money. …

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