Monday, January 17, 2011

Fines for the rich, jail for the poor

So, hot on the heels of "three strikes", car crushing, the erosion of legal aid and the elimination of jury trials comes the latest step in the government's assault on our civil liberties: jailing people for unpaid fines. While there's clearly a problem in this area, it is hard to see how jail will solve it. The government already has the power to seize assets and order deductions from wages to ensure that fines are paid. The major problem isn't people who won't pay their fines (against whom existing powers are more than sufficient), but people who can't. And jailing them does no good whatsoever, while costing us far more than is owed.

Money that can't be repaid won't be repaid. It is that simple. You can't squeeze blood out of a stone, no matter how long you stick it in jail. But the purpose of the policy isn't to get people to repay money, its to get the government "tough on crime" headlines in an election year, and suck up further to the "hang 'em high" brigade.

But quite apart from being ineffective, this creates a two-tier justice system, with fines for the rich and jail for the poor, even where there is no penalty of imprisonment in law. National is obviously quite comfortable with that. The rest of us should not be.

Labour, eager for "tough on crime" headlines of its own, naturally supports the proposal. What a pack of useless twatcocks. It would be nice to have a real opposition, and one which gave a damn about people's civil liberties.