Barristerblogger can’t stand sanctimonious left-wingery and as a result tries hard to be right-wing. But it is very difficult when some Conservative MPs try to pass laws that are mind-bogglingly, catatonically stupid.
Next month (probably on 10th January) a fine example of such a proposal is being debated in Parliament. It is an attempt to amend the criminal law. Surprisingly it emanates not from the Lord Chancellor – a notably practised political buffoon – but from two Northamptonshire Conservative MPs: Messrs Phillip Hollobone (Kettering) and Peter Bone (Wellingborough). Their proposal is characterised by the sort of stupidity, I suppose one could call it bone-headed, that drives one close to despair.
The skeletal twosome were both correctly identified by The Times in 2006 as being attention seekers: they said very little but did so on as many different subjects and as often as possible in order to boost their internet visibility, in the curiously misguided belief that greater visibility would lead to greater popularity. Mr Hollobone, for example contributed to a debate on Ascension Island. His 33 word speech displayed limited knowledge of the subject, although he did use 9 of them to reveal the irrelevant information that “a former mayoress of Kettering came from St Helena.” Mr Bone’s 41 word contribution to a debate on the Post Office amounted to the observation that there “was a splendid sub-postmaster in Little Irchester.”
The Bill to be debated next week is their Sentencing Escalation Bill which again displays their striking talent for empty publicity gimmicks. The object of the bill according to the (thoroughly misleading) introductory rubric is to
“Provide that a criminal reconvicted for an offence on a second or further occasion receives a longer sentence than for the first such offence.”
In fact S.1 (1) of the bill provides that a person sentenced for a criminal offence will always receive a longer sentence than his longest previous sentence for the same offence, unless “the court considers it unjust to do so”. Perhaps I had better quote it, in its full rather clumsy wording:
“Any person convicted of the same criminal offence on more than one occasion must receive a longer custodial sentence for the second or subsequent offence than his longest previous sentence for the same offence, unless the Court considers it unjust to do so.”
How would that work in practice? Suppose many years ago you broke somebody’s nose in a vicious unprovoked attack when you were a drunken twenty year old. You kicked a defenceless man as he lay on the floor. You received a two year sentence for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. You came out of prison a chastened and wiser man. You got a job and settled down with a family. You lived a righteous and law abiding life for ten years. Then you are involved in a stupid argument in which fists are thrown and you give someone a black eye. You plead guilty to ABH again. Under the ridiculous scheme devised by this bony pair you would have to receive a sentence of at least two years and one day, even though your second offence was infinitely less serious than the first.
“Hang on,” I hear my sharper-witted readers pointing out, “surely the Court would consider that unjust, so it wouldn’t have to pass a longer sentence?”
But the osteoid duo have thought about that. S. 1 (2) of their bill provides:
“Where a Court considers that the application of subsection (1) would result in an unjust sentence it shall impose a sentence of imprisonment equal to that of the individual’s longest previous sentence for that offence.”
In other words you would have to receive two years imprisonment, the same as you got last time, even though the court would consider that sentence unjust.
The absurdity of imposing a mandatory longer, or equally long, sentence for a later offence, however trivial it is and irrespective of any mitigating circumstances there might be, and doing so even when it is manifestly unjust, should not need spelling out, even to the slowest-witted Member of Parliament. And slow-witted is what we must assume Bone and Hollobone to be, because the alternative is that they take a malevolent delight in championing a law designed to produce injustice.
Their bill would of course produce any number of bizarre anomalies. Obviously, decent people would be gaoled for long periods for trivial offences; that, after all, is the whole point. Slightly less obviously, those with the worst records would escape its clutches. If, in the example I gave above, instead of having a previous conviction for ABH you had been gaoled for 5 years for the more serious offence of inflicting grievous bodily harm, or even 20 years for attempted murder, you would not be a candidate for the longer sentence because you would not have been convicted of “the same criminal offence.” So people who had been very nasty in the past would get lighter sentences than those who had only been fairly nasty. The justification for this is opaque, to say the least.
Now there is actually something to be said for Mr Hollobone. In 2012-13 he claimed some of the lowest expenses of any MP, a total of only £8,789.34, which included nothing at all for accommodation or staff. The same cannot be said for Mr Bone. He claimed £180,000, including total staffing costs of more than £130,000, over £45,000 of which went into his wife’s pocket. One would have thought that, given the vast sum of money spent on his office expenses, one of his well-paid aides, perhaps even his high-maintenance wife, would have taken Mr Bone to one side and quietly told him that the job of an MP is to make sensible laws, and that this one has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever.
Well it hasn’t happened, so these two candidates for the hotly-contested honour of being the stupidest men in Parliament will stand up next week and waste valuable time, and our money, by promoting their idiotic bill. It is true that despite containing many features that would commend it to the Ministry of Justice, it has practically no chance of becoming law. And the good people of Kettering and Wellingborough could be forgiven for having by now altogether lost interest in the publicity-hungry antics of their MPs. But if any of them are still paying attention perhaps they will decide at the next election that Messrs Bone and Hollobone have now shown themselves, quite incontrovertibly, to be a pair of irredeemably useless nit-wits. Northamptonshire deserves better.