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15 October 2009 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Justice and policing

GO into almost any community discussion about anti-social or anti-community activity and you can expect to hear many complaints about the quality of the police service. Clearly that criticism will very often be entirely justified. The North is a special example, given the many decades of bad policing, and clearly while a solid basis for accountable policing has been established it is still a work in progress.
While it is understandable that this issue would concentrate minds given the fact that it can have a very personal impact on many people’s lives, I believe that the emphasis on policing rather than justice can often be misplaced.
Criticism of policing can be attributed to the fact that communities now have an increased expectation of policing. But the same can also be said about justice, although this crucial issue has not had the same degree of debate or consideration. If we examine what exactly are the causes of dissatisfaction invariably blamed on the policing service, we will often come to the conclusion that it is the administration of justice rather than the quality of frontline policing which is fuelling the dissatisfaction.
People expect to see the anti-community elements and the criminals responsible for intimidating neighbourhoods, terrorising the elderly, drug dealing, rape, etc, dealt with appropriately in the courts. When they witness individuals who they know are responsible for these activities being arrested and then back on the streets and repeat offending – sometimes within a matter of hours – it is easy to point an accusatory finger in the direction of policing.
But the problem more often than not is a failure by the judiciary and the judicial process to appropriately deal with the individuals when they are brought before the courts. I believe that it is time that we adjusted our focus to reflect the real area of concern: JUSTICE
In recent times there have been a number of high-profile cases, including rape and murder, where evidently remorseless perpetrators have been handed derisory sentences and are back in the community even before the victims or their families have had time to recover from their ordeal.
This is not an acceptable state of affairs.
Justice must reflect the seriousness of the offence and, unless there are genuinely mitigating circumstances, the good of the community must take precedence over what appears to be the propensity of the judiciary to show leniency to the persistent perpetrator.
Appropriate victim impact reports should be an integral ingredient in all cases involving personal injury and persistent offences against the community.
If justice was seen to be dispensed in a manner that properly reflected not just the offence before the courts but the history of reoffending of the accused, then it would be reflected in the degree of acceptance for policing by a community that sees justice being proportionately dispensed.

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