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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La justice britannique tape fort pour faire des exemples

by Tristan de Bourbon

The British Justice System Hits Hard to Set an Example

Translated Tuesday 16 August 2011, by Nicole Hawkesford and reviewed by Nicole Hawkesford

London law courts become backlogged due to the immediate appearance of the rioters. The judges are seen to be very harsh on the accused, despite the charges of minor crimes.

"My client is an engineering student, he’s taking exams in ten days as well as in September. He has never been convicted and he is prepared to wear an electronic tag, to be subjected to a curfew, in short to submit to any conditions so long as he can sit his exams." Kaira Valentino Lawson’s lawyer is trying to get parole for this 22-year old man, accused of intent to steal : with two friends of the same age, sat by his side. He was arrested by the police in a computer store which was ransacked the day before. None of the products from that store were found in their possession.

Another lawyer stands up. "With his friends, Saffron Armstrong wanted to go to see what had happened to the store; he wanted to investigate like the journalists" he explains calmly, while the man concerned looks at his feet. "He is ashamed of his actions. He wants to repair the damage done with clean-up work in the community. He works at Marks & Spencer, he is in his second year studying finance at university, and he wants to continue on this path after a complicated childhood."

The mother of one of the accused men enters the public box with her husband. She awaits the verdict anxiously. "Mr Lawson and Mr Armstrong, this court does not have the ability to judge you since the crimes you have committed are too serious. I therefore refer you to another court for a hearing on the 18th September" pronounces the judge. "In the meantime, given the current circumstances, I refuse to release you on parole and you will therefore wait in prison." An identical sentence was given to the third thief. One of the two men lowers his head, his eyes blank, while his mother covers her face in her hands to avoid crying. "They want to set an example, so they’re charging everyone very severely." grumbles the furious father.

The British justice system has decided to bring immediately to court everyone arrested in connection with the riots. Consequently, the main London law courts are overflowing, and since last Thursday the Westminster criminal court has had to take on all the pending cases. Its judges rapidly assess the cases to decide if the accused should be brought before the Crown court or not; the court with the greatest sentencing powers. The calls against the politicisation of the judgements didn’t take long, given their severity: among all the cases passed before court no.5 up until midday Friday, only one of the accused was freed; all the others were sent to prison to await their trial. The happy chosen one had been arrested in the crowd and accused of "bad behaviour", without having been accused of any thefts or damage.

The majority of the accused are white, like the man just mentioned, or black, and in large part male. With some rare exceptions, they are aged between 17 and 25, and are studying or working. Some arrive free, others handcuffed. None of them seem full of themselves. Least of all Nicolas Robinson : this 23-year old man with a clean police record, guilty of having stolen a bottle of water from a wrecked store, after the riots, was sentenced to six months in prison.

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