VICTIMS VERSUS CRIMINALS

Posted by HSMP Forum at 11/28/2012 3:13 PM |

VICTIMS VERSUS CRIMINALS

With a rising number of robberies, burglaries, shoplifting and housebreaking cases, London has really become an unsafe place to live in. The public is increasingly being targeted by unscrupulous lads for mobile phones, money and jewellery.

Many of the victims are women, belonging to the ethnic minorities who wear their gold wedding chains (known as “mangalsutra” in India or “thalikkodi” in Srilanka) as part of their culture. Theft of such invaluable possessions often has psychological and emotional effects, making it difficult for them to get on with their lives.

These incidents affect the victims and witnesses in different ways:

A man who was robbed of his chain did not make a formal police complaint initially since he thought it would be impossible to recover the chain. However, he made a complaint to the police after he spotted the offenders at a later date. Having made a witness statement, he hoped to have recognised them in an identification parade but was later informed that the identity of the offenders could not be established and hence they were released. He said it was highly disappointing that the police were seeking him to identify the culprits from some unclear and confusing video footage which made it difficult for him to identify the offenders. According to him, following the formal procedure was a complete waste of time which got him nowhere. Also, it has scarred him so much that he now finds it difficult to walk down the streets alone.

A victim of domestic burglary, this Srilankan woman says wearing jewellery on special occasions is a matter of great pride for their community. She was devastated after this jewellery was stolen from her house for which her family had saved for a decade. Her shop was also targeted by miscreants who made away with goods worth thousands of pounds, robbing her family of their only source of livelihood. The family now is struggling to run their business and cannot afford to buy any jewellery. Besides, the incidents have left a deep impact on their child, who too is scared to move around freely even inside their own house. Both these incidents have been reported to the police but no progress has been made.

In another incident, an elderly person had to be admitted to hospital for a week after he was seriously assaulted by robbers who were trying to steal his chain. He says he had called the police for help but they never arrived at the spot.

Victims state that they are now wary of opening their doors even for the postman or a neighbour. Others claim that it has instilled a sense of suspicion in everyone around them. Those who boldly came forward to give evidence as witnesses in courts now are worried about the ramifications of their actions. They do not have any faith in the police who they doubt will be able to protect them from the offenders if they turn up as witnesses in court. Some witnesses who reported such matters to the police were threatened face to face by the culprits of dire consequences.

The police are unhappy with the public that most of them do not report such crimes and even if they do, they do not cooperate enough. But contrary to what they say, the situation becomes worse if the victim comes forward to do so; they are expected to follow a lengthy procedure of making their witness statement and then recognise the offender from some unclear footage at an identification parade. It is a pointless exercise if ultimately the victim’s evidence is not considered ‘strong enough’ in identifying the criminal, and then the case is closed.

Well, what happens if the victim has given their evidence without leaving any room for suspicion? Will the criminal be duly punished for his/ her offences? The answer would be a disappointing “no”. When the criminal’s offence is proved with ample evidence, if they admit that they have committed the offence and if it does not come under the pre-defined “serious offences” the prosecution service will be so considerate towards them that they are not prosecuted, but are given a “conditional caution” meant for adult offenders.

“Conditional caution” is given “when the Crown Prosecutor is satisfied that the public interest can best be served by the offender complying with suitable conditions aimed at reparation, rehabilitation or punishment”. A prosecution will continue only if the offender fails to comply with the conditions.

Statistics show that a conditional caution or a sentence does not make any difference in the intention of the criminals to reoffend. Statistics show more than half a million crimes were committed by known offenders last year, half of which were carried out by career criminals. The shocking rise in the reoffending rates urges the Ministry of Justice to reform the criminal justice system so that offenders are properly punished and the root cause of their behaviour is addressed.
As far as the victim’s plight is concerned, on the one hand, their naivety is threatened and exploited by the offenders, and on the other hand it is challenged by the police.  All the pains they have undergone in losing their valued possessions and the time and effort taken to co-operate with the police in finding the criminals oddly vanishes  into thin air when the criminal is let out with a simple  “conditional caution” or perhaps with no caution at all.

A “conditional caution” will affect the offender only in terms of their future employment or air travel plans, which seems irrelevant and unsuitable to an offender who has indulged in crimes like robbery or burglary. It sounds as if the judicial system is trying to protect the criminals rather than the victims.

Is there any guarantee that the offenders will not commit a crime, if they are given a conditional caution? Will the police or prosecution take responsibility for any future offences by the criminal on conditional caution? What is the solution offered by the system to the victims? Is it unrealistic for the victims to expect that justice will be meted out?

The questions remain unanswered.

Author: Dr Subbulakshmi Natarajan
Dr Subbulakshmi Natarajan is a committee member of the HSMP Forum and campaigns against anti-social behaviour and crime in her local area.

THE BALLOT BOX AND THE PRISON

Posted by HSMP Forum at 11/24/2012 2:15 AM |  |

THE BALLOT BOX AND THE PRISON

The recent political tension revolving around prisoners’ right to vote has been widely debated. The issue surrounds strong political sentiments and the newspapers and television programmes created awareness and found widespread public opinion against the European Court of Human Rights judgments urging the UK to amend its law. The UK’s refusal to adhere to the Court’s ruling may mean it will be in breach of its international obligations.

 

The country’s domestic law yet again clashes with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Representation of the People Act 1983 (amended in 1985 and 2000) prohibited sentenced prisoners from voting except those on remand and on electoral register.
It is unlikely that there would be a big problem in prisons for denying prisoners a right to vote but the fact that there have been cases in courts for allowing such a right to be exercised provides ample evidence that there are prisoners who want to vote.

 

This issue which is now a controversy, faced the test in Hirst v United Kingdom (74025/01) (2006), a case which challenged section 3 (1) of the Representation of the People Act 1983. The case was brought by Mr John Hirst who spent his time in prison for murdering his land lady with an axe and was given widespread publicity for his racist views on an MP. But irrespective of individual characters and their opinions, what should be considered is the content of the European Court of Human Rights judgment. In 2005, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights upheld the decision of the European Court that the UK had violated article 3 imposing a blanket restriction on all convicted prisoners irrespective of the length of their sentence and the gravity of their offences. The Grand Chamber concluded that section 3(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 is incompatible with Article 3 of the First Protocol of the ECHR. The Grand Chamber emphasised that right to vote is a right and not a privilege and rejected the idea of automatic disenfranchisement based on what might offend public opinion.

 

Earlier in 2001, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said that it ‘fails to discern the justification’ for blanket prisoner disenfranchisement and considers it an unwarranted and additional punishment that contributes nothing ‘towards the prisoner’s reformation and rehabilitation, contrary to article 10(3) in conjunction with article 25 of the Covenant’.

 

In February 2011, Members of Parliament (MPs) voted 234 to 22 to maintain the blanket ban on prisoners’ right to vote. More recently in May 2012, the Grand Chamber gave UK an extra span of 6 months to amend its blanket prohibition regarding the voting rights of prisoners. The UK government like most other countries in the Europe need not remove the ban completely but must introduce some measures, for e.g., allow voting rights to prisoners who may not have committed very serious offences such as terrorist activities or a murder.

 

The Prime Minister David Cameron recently quoted in November 2012 that the idea of prisoners voting in elections made him sick. His views are in line with the majority of the politicians in the country but Mr Cameron may soon be forced to reconsider his position. The Attorney General Dominic Grieve recently told the MPs: “If Parliament chooses not to implement the judgment, it would be a serious matter, because it would place the UK in breach of its international obligations to which it is a signatory. I accept that other countries are in breach of their implementation obligations, but that does not provide an excuse for our not honouring our own.”
It is important for the UK to follow the footsteps of other countries. In Germany, only people convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism or political violence are disenfranchised from exercising their voting rights. Iceland bans serious offenders, while Italy and Greece prohibits prisoners with life sentence from exercising their vote. On the other hand, countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain allow their prisoners to vote.
A quote from Winston Churchill, Home Secretary in July 1910 says it all; he said “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even those of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”

 

What the United Nations Human Rights Committee said earlier and the European Court of Human Rights held may be contrary to the member states public opinion as it is not a decision based on a popularity contest, unlike that of the most politicians. Denying prisoners the right to vote in this day and age is primitive. The politicians have their own egos to deal with and their disagreement with the European Court’s verdict is nothing new. Some of them want to get rid of the Human Rights Act 1998 and abandon the ECHR obligations and are finding ways to gather public support. There is a need for a Court to have an upper hand when deciding on matters concerning a smaller section of society. Politicians who are generally interested in majority support and views cannot be expected to protect the rights of the minority segments at all times.

 

Prisoners are those who break the law and as a consequence have been sent to prison and the politicians now intend to break the law (European or international law) by not adhering to the Court’s judgment. It will be a poor state of affairs to see the politicians abusing their powers to deny those who are facing punishment their right to vote, and in the process break the law. The MPs need to show flexibility and should debate on allowing prisoners who have not committed very serious offences and/or are not awarded life imprisonment, to exercise their right to vote.


Author: Amit Kapadia

Amit is the Executive Director of the HSMP Forum. He campaigns against issues such as – unfairness, inequality and abuse of human rights.

Twitter @ amit_kapadia

IS THE CURRENT EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM DISCRIMINATORY?

Posted by HSMP Forum at 11/19/2012 4:17 PM |

IS THE CURRENT EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM DISCRIMINATORY?

The Education Secretary Michael Gove was recently quoted that ethnic minority pupils were “under-marked” by teachers and white pupils were “more generously” marked. He further stated the need for papers to be marked externally, while arguing that “External tests are fairer,” and “With external testing there is no opportunity for such bias – the soft bigotry of low expectations – and tests show ethnic minority students performing better” and that external tests “are not only a way of levelling the playing field for children of all backgrounds they are a solvent of prejudice.”

This was met by immediate rebuttal by some teachers saying Mr Gove’s comments were rubbish.

Earlier research and reports provided evidence of under-marking of Ethnic Minority students in higher education. Government statistics showed students from minority ethnic groups were less likely than their white peers to achieve top marks in their degrees. The report argued that while universities may have race equality policies, there was “a need to couple the intentions of these documents with practices that enable all to feel part of the institution’s community”. UK is ethnically diverse but that does not mean discrimination does not exist. At times, its existence is so discreet that it makes it even more difficult to prove its occurrence.

Educational institutions become defensive when there is pressure to change the existing system. Many institutes do not even offer a re-marking facility for an aggrieved student; they just blatantly dismiss any possibility of discrimination or resort to some pre-determined lengthy investigation procedure. The procedure makes it extremely difficult to challenge their decision in any meaningful way. Often, making a complaint of discrimination could result in the victimisation of the student who is perceived as a troublemaker and subsequently isolated by his peers.

The powerful and evil institute is aware that fear of repercussion could deter any student to come forward and often the other students’ lack of strong character makes it difficult to gather witnesses for the victim, which is used by the institutes to their advantage. A student spending a lot for his / her education ends up being denied even a fair procedure for re-evaluation. The student is expected to accept the mark as his / her destiny even though he / she believes to have been awarded a lower mark due to discrimination, while other students enjoying a more preferential attitude do get away with a more lenient marking.
The procedures make it very difficult for students to even obtain information in terms of overall results of an institute as per the ethnicity of its students. The institutes will simply hide behind the pretension of protecting identification of its database. What makes the educational system so rigid and immune to scrutiny? Is it right to assume that the regulatory bodies seem to be sleep walking through the process or do they simply believe they owe this unmindfulness to the institutes in order to protect them?

Some educational institutes have had their licences revoked for supposedly breaching the rules laid down by the UK Border agency for overseas students. However, other institutes get away scot-free when they are found to discriminate against ethnic minority students. This clearly shows the nature of law and the government’s priorities.
The concept of anonymous marking has been a recent introduction to the assessment system. However, its efficacy is highly suspect, when it boils down to the fact that same faculty assessing a student’s work on a daily basis ends up marking their exam paper as well.
The argument of anonymous marking may not hold any weight. For e.g. hand written work of a student can be easily identified on the basis of;

– Writing styles

– Vocabulary and syntax of a non-native English speaker

– Use of certain verbs or tenses hinting at a regional or class background

 

Is there any correlation between under-marking in the academic work of ethnic minority students and the rising unemployment among them? Certainly, grades matter a great deal and make it much easier or more difficult for a graduate to obtain a job and as a starting point of consideration for many employers when it comes to shortlisting candidates. There is a serious need to correct this major flaw in the system pertaining to discrepancy in marking, which may make or break future careers of many ethnic minority students.

Mr Gove’s external marking argument makes more sense and maybe a better means of protection for ethnic minority students in all levels of education.


Author: Amit Kapadia

Amit is the Executive Director of the HSMP Forum. He campaigns against issues such as – unfairness, inequality, human rights abuses, and deals with the issues faced by overseas and ethnic minority students.

Twitter @ amit_kapadia

References:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9676039/Michael-Gove-says-external-exams-stop-the-bigotry-of-teachers.html#

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7202358.stm

IS EQUALITY FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE UK ACHIEVABLE? AND WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING ABOUT IT?

IS EQUALITY FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE UK ACHIEVABLE? AND WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING ABOUT IT? – Posted by HSMP Forum at 11/15/2012 12:32 AM

The ever growing unemployment among ethnic minority groups is no secret in the UK. It is becoming more obvious than ever since the rates are more than twice as high as among white people of the same age. It was recently reported by the Office of National Statistics that unemployment among Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) group has doubled since 2008. Interestingly, the Government appointed researchers found that those with an African or Asian sounding surname had to send about twice as many job applications as those with a traditionally English name even to bag an interview.

Way back, before the general elections, David Cameron promised the Conservatives would tackle inequalities as did the Liberal Democrats, by claiming to put an “end to discrimination” in their manifesto. So what happened?

The body in charge of curbing inequality and human rights abuses – Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC / the Commission) has faced some drastic new changes and severe cuts to its budget. The newly appointed EHRC chief, Baroness Onora O’Neill, neither has the background nor can boast of previous experience in the field of equality or human rights. It is hoped that she does not disappoint those looking forward for the Commission to play an important role.

Some of the commissioners (Baroness Meral Hussein Ece OBE and Simon Woolley) appointed by the previous government were unable to make it to the shortlists, let alone renew their position under the new rules. They were issued with automated job responses that informed them that they were not worthy to do the job anymore. This is nothing but a poor reflection on the Commission which itself is becoming a victim of some sort. Although, the Commission has done some good work at times but it needs to admit that it has not been able to successfully combat discrimination, one of its crucial functions, and this can be partly attributed to the government’s interference with its functioning and inaction to act on the Commission’s investigations.

It is believed the budget cuts imposed on EHRC could possibly strip it of its “A” list status by the United Nations. The “B” list status is usually enjoyed by countries such as Kazakhstan and Congo-Brazzaville. The UN commissioner on Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, had earlier issued a warning to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, stating “I would like to call on your government to review some of the proposals with a view to preserving EHRC’s independence and to ensuring its continued compliance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions”.

The government’s undue interference with these bodies, designed to safeguard people against inequality and human rights abuses remain unexplained. Maria Miller, Minister for women and equalities rather very vaguely and unconvincingly tries to make her case when she promised that the changes are meant to make the EHRC more effective and authoritative. However, only time will tell if these assurances carry weight or are mere rhetoric.

EHRC definitely needs more powers to make it independent and authoritative in order to achieve its objectives. But the government seems to be doing just the opposite by imposing staff and budget cuts and also by denying it a diverse representation. The new commissioners may not have a black or Muslim member among them. The government rarely seems to listen to the EHRC anymore and the decreased powers and reduced funding only serve to cripple the body from carrying out its duties effectively. Ultimately, it is the vulnerable that will be affected.

The government may claim unavailability of meritorious candidates did not allow them to appoint commissioners from diverse backgrounds. However, it is quite similar to an explanation given by organisations for denying employment to ethnic minority candidates at times i.e. you are not good enough and there were better candidates available. Most of the times, such reasoning is offered as an excuse to deny job to a deserving candidate because of his / her race or beliefs. Those who discriminate usually make it a point to use this argument of non-availability of meritorious candidates and not compromising on the quality of the candidate, this is even though at times there may be no set strict criteria to shortlist candidates. It is not only patronising but offensive at times.

Maybe it is time for the government to step back and keep away from any sort of interference which may impact work of such bodies. It is high time we had a more robust and an empowered watchdog but the government seems to maim these crucial bodies which are supposed to uphold the very essence of equality and human rights.

Author: Amit Kapadia

Amit is the Executive Director of the HSMP Forum. He campaigns against issues such as – unfairness, inequality and human rights abuses.
Twitter @ amit_kapadia

References:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/17/black-britain-unemployment-conservatives

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/baroness-onora-oneill-set-to-become-head-of-equality-and-human-rights-commission-8195796.html

www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-tories-are-emasculating-the-equality-and-human-rights-commission-8280977.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/26/budget-cuts-rights-watchdog-un-status?newsfeed=true

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/08/equality-human-rights-commission