June 2009 articles archive:

Police powers – police tactic of ‘kettling’

Police tactic of ‘kettling’ appropriate and proportionate response?

Any discussion and debate about police powers and whether they strike the right balance between the rights of individuals and society as a whole is not likely to be complete following the events of the G20 demonstration in the City of London.

What is kettling?

Kettling is the  term used  when referring to the Metropolitan’s tactic of containing and controlling large and potentially violent groups of protesters.  A former senior policeman Andy Hayman says of kettling “The tactics are to herd the crowd into a pen, known as ‘the kettle’… the police will not want groups splintering away from the main crowd.”

This results in groups of protesters being steered towards designated areas that suit the police where they are effectively ‘penned’ by circles of police specially trained to deal with possible public disorder.

‘Appropriate and proportionate response?’

Specific concerns centre around two incidents made public by the media including Youtube, one being the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson following his push to the ground by a police officer.  

This incident is to be investigated as will the subsequent complaints concerning a woman who appeared to be slapped on the face by a police officer with his glove. This was then followed by the use of a police baton to her legs.

‘Right to protest and freedom of movement?’

The police strategy does raise the very real issue of whether the tactic infringes individual freedoms.  This includes the right to protest and the freedom of movement.  These are important individual rights, which have deep roots in our democracy.  

It also remains to be seen whether the matter will be successfully raised by human rights lawyers under the provisions of the widely drawn Human Rights Act 1998.  

The police defend the tactic by arguing that it is far better than the alternative of dispersement with the possibility that there would be a real danger of protesters reeking havoc over a wider area.

The other issue is whether it is right to defend police tactics where there appears to be an inherent risk of harm or injury to individuals and exposes individual officers to allegations of assault or worse?  It has now been announced that the first police officer to be charged following the demonstrations has now been identified. 

Some of you will recall that demonstrators posted Youtube footage of a police officer appearing to strike Brighton woman Nicola Fisher.

The Crown Prosecution service have now announced: "The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge Police Sergeant Delroy (Tony) Smellie with the offence of assault by beating of Nicola Fisher on 2 April 2009 at a demonstration in the City of London." 

We must wait and see how this case proceeds.




Criminal liability of children

Brothers accused of attempting to murder two young boys.

The issue of whether it is right to hold children fully responsible for their criminal acts is likely to be examined in the case of the two brothers accused of attempting to murder two young boys.  The brothers are aged 10 and 11.  The attack took place in Edlington, South Yorkshire on 4 April 09.

The law in this area has changed recently.  Previously children aged between 10 and 14 were presumed not to have criminal liability unless it could be proved that they knew what they were doing was seriously wrong.

The law, changed in October 1998 by s34 the Crime and Disorder Act, now provides that children of this age have the same criminal liability as adults.  Some may argue that this may seem strange as in other areas, such as marriage and voting, the law stipulates a different age.  

In criminal law the consequences for the individual can be extremely serious so one wonders how the law is able to move the goal posts around in this way.  However society and the families of victims have had reasons to confront these questions in recent years with the apparent increase in knife and gun crime involving young persons.    

The courts can treat children aged between 10 and 14 differently if found guilty when it comes to sentencing.

The House of Lords upheld the presumption that children of this age are incapable of committing a crime as recently as 1996 in C (a minor).  However by this time the legal fraternity had concerns about whether the law needed to be changed.  Those of you who are law students will know that just because the House of Lords has concerns it is not enough and Lord Lowry for one expressed the view that if the law were to be changed then that ought to be a matter for Parliament.

The case of C (a minor) 1996 concerned a boy, seen holding the handlebars of a motorcycle while another youth tampered with the chain and the padlock.  The boy was challenged and ran away (ordinarily this is enough to cause the individual a problem because if he was not doing anything wrong why did he run away?).  The boy was convicted and appealed against conviction which eventually reached the House of Lords.  Their Lordships firmly supported the presumption but the presumption was removed shortly afterwards by the Crime and Disorder Act.

The Crown Prosecution Service have now announced (3 September 2009) that they reached a decision not to pursue the attempted murder charges following consultations with the victims' families.  The brothers , now aged 10 and 12, have entered guilty pleas to the lesser offence of causing grievous bodily harm with intent under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Full details of the horrific attack have now come out at Sheffield Crown Court.  The older victim had a sink dropped on his head and one brother had a noose put round his head.  One was burned with a cigarette on his eyelids and ear.

The younger brother had a stick rammed into his arm and the wound was burned with cigarettes.

One of the attackers told the younger brother to "go away and kill himself" .

Both brothers were seriously injured and had bricks thrown at them and were repeatedly stamped on.  The account goes on and included two charges of intentionally causing a child to engage in a sexual activity.

Apparently on the day of the attack the boys should have been at the local police station to answer questions about an attack on another boy a week earlier.  The defendants were it seems well known to the police as trouble makers and in care at the time.

The case is likely to cause the spotlight to turn on such issues as parental control or the lack of it as well as the issue of whether any agency involved including Social Services ought to have acted earlier or whether anything else could have been done to prevent the boys wreaking havoc and harm.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Keith, will hear reports and visit the ravine which was the site of the attacks before the boys are sentenced later this year.  The social background of these boys and the extent to which their circumstances are taken into account may also invite comment and criticism depending upon the views and experiences of members of the public.  Watch this space.


Violence in video games

Calls to curb violent video games by father of Damilola, but should we go further?

Richard Taylor, the father of the murdered schoolboy, is calling on the government to impose financial penalties or taxation on violent video games that may influence or have a bearing on street violence. 

At present video games are only covered by a voluntary ratings scheme which extends its existing ratings system of U, 15 and 18 to digital downloads and video games.  This is despite concerns and calls for a regime to be imposed on video games following repeated concerns about the links between video nasties and violence.

Such concerns are not new and some of us can recall similar concerns going back as far as the tragic case of Jamie Bulger.  There have been many studies conducted and there is ample material to support the view that there is a strong link between aggressive and violent behaviour and violent video games. 

If that is the case, having regard to public concerns over violence and knife crimes and shootings involving young persons, are we being asked to pay too high a price.  If a taxation regime is introduced surely this is in danger of falling short of children’s expectations of us as parents and as responsible citizens. 

How would we balance the risk?  How would we square the interests of children generally if there were a risk that licensing was simply seen as a badge of approval for something that instinct and intuition and downright common sense should tell us otherwise? 

Surely we ought to have the courage of our convictions and go for a prohibition or outlawing of violent video games otherwise there is a danger that any thing less will simply allow commercial interests to hide behind a veil of authorisation under any system of licensing or regulation.  How many lessons must we learn?


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