Friday, January 13, 2006

Trial by Media

Paul and Mat say what I was going to. The problem with the sex offenders register appears to be that people can find themselves on it without being found guilty of anything. Child protection is obviously not something to take risks with but at the same time, ruining a career on the basis of suspicion of illegal activity is simply wrong. This has all the makings of a witchhunt society. Ruth Kelly's urgent new laws are only likely to make that worse.

Every possible effort should be made to keep peadophiles away from children. No-one disputes that. But the fact that someone who appears on the register could be considered suitable to work in a school is an indication that either the list, or the Minister, is seriously flawed. Not a risk? Why's he on the register? A risk? Why was he allowed to work with children?

The whole thing is a fiasco and reflects extremely badly on Kelly and the government. Until the register can be sorted out, it's blindingly obvious that these decisions should not be taken by a minister but by suitable experts. "But it's been going on this way for years" bleat the government. Yeah, so has murder but that's no excuse, you vacuous gits.

The urgent response to this crisis is as clear an example of government by reaction to negative publicity as you're ever likely to see. Bishards proposals have been around for 18 months and the government doesn't seem to have done much to implement them. One bad story in the media and suddenly there's an urgent need to make changes. Is this really how government should operate?

And what of those urgent new measures?
Ms Kelly told MPs she would like cautions and convictions to be "treated identically"...
A police caution sounds like an admission of guilt on the part of the suspect and in theory that is exactly what it is. In practise, people who claim to be innocent are often advised to accept a caution rather than going to trial even if they insist they are innocent. It's about publicity. A public court case in which the defendant is found to be innocent will still generate much "where there's smoke there's fire" media coverage. This will, most likely, destroy the reputation of someone who has been found to be innocent in a court of law. He's a witch, burn him... For that reason, a legal adviser may recommend accepting a police caution to someone who insists they are innocent. The chance to prove their claim, or have it disproven, is denied them. Justice can go whistle.

Society has a duty to protect childrenfrom peadophiles. To abuse vulnerable children is a horrendous crime. A reliable sex offenders register would help our society to provide that protection. Kneejerk, reactionary, media obsessed government will not.

From the front page of today's Press and Journal (article not online sadly):
First Minister Jack McConnell has pledged to toughen up Scotland's child protection system after it emerged just 63 people in the country are banned from working with youngsters. The figure contrasts with the 2,800 names contained on the Scottish sex offenders register and was revealed as controversy raged south of the border over people convicted of such offences getting jobs in schools.
It seems that the Scottish system is even more of a farce than the English one. It should be pointed out that, acccording to McConnell's spokesman, there are no known cases of someone on the register working at a Scottish school. All the same, the Scottish Executive, just like Ruth Kelly's lot, are now rushing to address this long standing problem. Because it's only important if the media spots it...

You might have noticed that the Daily Mail owned P&J have made a factual error here though. Was the English problem caused by concerns about "people convicted of such offences"? No. The man at the centre of this was not convicted, he was cautioned. Well done for blurring the line though.

Still, it could be worse. The Daily Record, part of the Mirror Group, have also covered this. Their headline:
New Laws to Banish Pervs from Child Jobs
How very level headed. That sort of responsible, rational coverage is just what this story needs.

Edit: particularly bad grammer has been corrected.

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