Friday, August 01, 2014

The judiciary doesn't take electoral crime seriously either

That's the only conclusion which can be drawn from John Banks' laughable sentence for filing a false electoral return. A hundred hours of community service and an evening curfew for deliberately attempting to undermine our democracy? Well, that will encourager les autres to comply with the law in future, won't it?

Let's be clear here: Banks has received a slap on the wrist because he is rich and white. The sentencing discussion was full of the usual code, calling the offending "an aberration" (Banks was clear that it was his usual practice) and referring to his long career of "public service", all the usual code for "this criminal is like me so I will go easy on him". And so the severity of the offence was talked down while establishment sympathy for the offender was made clear. And then judges wonder why we think they are systematically biased in favour of the rich...

But the worst thing is that this is precedent-setting. Banks is the first person prosecuted under this law, and the first convicted. And Judge Wylie has now set a sentencing bar so low that Parliament might as well not have bothered. The only mitigating factor is that Banks has at least finally been convicted - meaning he will be remembered in history for being the first MP in almost a century to be stripped of his seat for criminal behaviour. But that's not enough. Judge Wylie has let us down today, and our democracy is worse for it.