Friday 29 September 2006

Perverse incentives.

Surely there comes a point when the unintended consequences are so bloody obviously inevitable that one must question whether they're really unintended. (Natalie the Wise is having similar thoughts.)

So here's a fab new wheeze from our lords & masters:

SERIOUS crimes such as assaulting a police officer and mugging will be punished by instant fines of up to £100 from next year under plans to keep hundreds of thousands of offenders out of court.

Proposals drawn up by the Home Office, and seen by The Times, envisage a huge extension of fixed-penalty notices from early 2007. They would apply to nearly 30 offences, including assault, threatening behaviour, all types of theft up to a value of £100, obstructing or assaulting a police officer, possession of cannabis, and drunkenness.

In other words, we're continuing to see the move from a system in which people are presumed innocent and can only be convicted through a trial to one in which the police can punish you without having to bother with any of that legalistic time-wasting.

Unlike conditional cautions, the fixed-penalty notices do not require the offender to admit guilt, and the penalty is not a criminal conviction.

Since the fixed-penalty notice involves a punishment, what's so great about its not constituting a criminal conviction? Why not extend this principle to fixed-penalty jail time? The police lock you up for a week, but don't worry; it doesn't go on your record.

Quoth Tim:

Have these people no clue? Assaulting a police officer? 100 quid? Should be five years minimum! Violence directed at the police should be severely punished simply to discourage anyone else thinking of doing the same thing. That's the only possible method of retaining (as I desperately hope we shall) the tradition of largely unarmed police.

Let's go one better shall we? Let's make assaulting a politician cost 100 pounds.

I've got my money right here and if it's John Reid we catch I'll lend you yours.

But this legislation also has a down-side. What if you steal more than a hundred quid? Mug someone to the tune of two hundred quid and a walletful of credit cards, give one hundred quid to a policeman, and be on your way with a tidy net profit. I believe a similar scheme has been tried before, in Chicago in the 1920s. The difference is that the US Government took measures to stop it, on the grounds that it was "corruption". Our Government are establishing, formalising, and legalising it, on the grounds that it will "speed up justice".

Do we really want a system where criminals can avoid arrest and a criminal record by handing over cash to police officers? None of our leaders foreseeing any problems with that? Anyone?

Oh, all right, then.

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