|You are in: In Depth: Cracking Crime|
Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Judge calls for imaginative solutions
In the latest of a series of profiles for the BBC's Cracking Crime day, Chris Summers speaks to a judge at the Old Bailey.
More imaginative solutions are needed if we are to stop the vicious circle of people committing crime, being sent to prison, coming out and offending again, says Mrs Justice Rafferty.
As she sits in her Old Bailey chambers, proffering opinions with the same cautious wisdom she uses when meting out sentences, it becomes easy to see why journalists who have seen her in action describe her as "impressive".
A jolly mixture of the traditional and the radical, Anne Rafferty is a million miles from the stereotypical image of a judge - a reactionary Old Etonian in his late 70s who would not know his Eminem from his M&Ms.
"We have got to deal more imaginatively with those who have a recidivist tendency," says Mrs Justice Rafferty.
She has strong opinions on the British criminal justice system, but remains convinced it is one of the best in the world.
She favours restorative justice - where an offender meets his victim and both try to come to terms with his crime - weekend jails and initiatives which tackle drugs.
Mrs Justice Rafferty says the drug training and treatment orders (DTTOs), introduced recently by the government in an attempt to wean addicted criminals off drugs, are "to be watched with interest".
She is also enthusiastic about a scheme, being piloted in Plymouth, which seeks to identify substance abuse problems as soon as an arrest is made.
The idea is the brainchild of her colleague, Judge William Taylor, who noticed the problem while administering justice in the Devon and Cornwall courts.
It enables drug addicts, alcoholics and glue sniffers to have their substance abuse treated at the earliest possible stage, instead of having to wait until the outcome of their case by which time they may have committed more offences.
"I recently did a circuit at Middlesbrough and during an eight-week period only one of the cases I dealt with didn't involve hard drugs," said Mrs Justice Rafferty.
'Drugs ruin young lives'
She said: "Hard drugs certainly contribute to the sum of human misery.
"You see ruined young lives, whether it's someone who has overdosed, or burglaries caused by people feeding their habits or young girls prostituting themselves to fund their habit."
She is also a supporter of the idea of weekend jails, which have been operating in the Netherlands for years.
"If someone is jailed they will lose their job and possibly their house, their wife and children will suffer and the state will have to pay.
"Weekend jails allow someone to keep their job, and thus provide for their family but they lose their leisure time. So instead of being at the football he can go to prison."
Mrs Justice Rafferty is also keen on restorative justice, a process pioneered in Canada.
It allows offenders, their victims or relatives of their victims to come face to face, whether they are murderers or burglars.
It is purely voluntary and Mrs Justice Rafferty said: "There has been some very powerful Canadian research on it which shows it works and allows both parties to move on."
'Abolish mandatory life sentence'
She is also in favour of the abolition of the mandatory life sentence for murder.
"Don't tell me that a man who lurks in the bushes and knifes a 16-year-old girl on her way home, and an 82-year-old pensioner who puts a pillow over the face of his terminally ill wife because he cannot bear to see her suffer deserve the same sentence," says Mrs Justice Rafferty.
She says the mandatory life sentence should be abolished and judges should be free to give people who commit premeditated killings anything from a suspended sentence to natural life incarceration.
But while Mrs Justice Rafferty is willing to countenance significant changes to the justice system, she is dead against the idea of televised courts and believes judges and barristers should continue wearing their wigs and gowns.
Asked if televising courts would not help to shed light on the justice system and wipe away public misconceptions, she replied: "I'll give you (famous US lawyer) F Lee Bailey's number and you can ask him if it works in America.
Mrs Justice Rafferty said the general public often formed the opinion, wrongly, that defendants had "got off" based on the distorted way cases were reported in the newspapers.
She said TV coverage of trials would only make this worse: "Television companies are just as prone to pressure as anybody else.
"I can't see a TV editor being prepared to show days of tedious legal proceedings.
"They will just show highlights and that means there is a danger of the public getting a skewed view of the trial. Only the jurors will have to listen to all the evidence."
As for wigs and gowns she believes they give courts a certain gravitas and added: "There is a big difference between feeling humiliated and intimidated, and feeling properly intimidated by the majesty of the law."
Earlier this year the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said courts were contributing to a rise in robberies by allowing the guilty to go free.
But Mrs Justice Rafferty said the police had always complained about acquittals and added: "They have got so much on their side nowadays.
"There have been changes to a suspect's right of silence, they also have DNA and sophisticated surveillance techniques.
"You have to remind yourself that the power of the state when prosecuting the individual is quite considerable and so are the relative resources," said the judge.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more Cracking Crime stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy