Helen Martin: What price justice in your budget targets?

BRITISH law (Scottish or English) is based on a clear distinction between right and wrong and the pursuit of justice. Correct?

Monday, 6th March 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:23 am
One of the most heinous, organised crimes today is child sexual abuse. Picture: John devlin

And one of the most heinous, organised crimes today, which few members of the public even realised existed decades ago, is child and teenage sexual abuse. Correct?

With inquiries ongoing in political and religious sectors of society, and various celebrities now convicted of such abuse, the law is on a mission to bring these disgusting culprits to justice, shame them, jail them and make them pay? Wrong.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service has published a report containing proposals that less serious criminal offences could be dealt with online instead of in court, with pleas, defence, prosecution and sentencing all being done through a secure website.

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An email shows council officials held some information back from councillors during the tram fiasco. Picture: Ian Rutherford

For genuinely minor motoring offences, it makes sense. But the real horror is that the report also raises the possibility of that online system extending to some sex offenders. Are they really classed as committing ‘less serious’ crimes on a par with driving at 30mph in a 20mph zone?

At the same time in England, the Chief Constable of Norfolk and the UK’s most senior police figure when it comes to protecting children, Simon Bailey, said people who store and look at sexual and indecent pictures of children should not all be treated as criminals.

His bizarre argument is that, though they are paedophiles and are looking at such material, they are not necessarily personally guilty of physical and sexual abuse.

His theory is that they should have counselling and be rehabilitated.

An email shows council officials held some information back from councillors during the tram fiasco. Picture: Ian Rutherford

To any normal person it seems perfectly obvious that the children in the images these perverts are lusting over are victims of abuse. That’s how the photos came to exist. The fact that the child in question is not actually present in the room with the paedophile viewer is irrelevant.

By paying for access to such material, he (or possibly she – who knows?) is creating the demand for other paedophiles or gangs to continue abusing and filming or photographing kids to supply to the market. Viewing that stuff is not an innocent hobby or a harmless fetish. It is criminal and exploitative.

The Scottish Courts Service, which seems to be excusing criminals from having to appear in the dock in public and instead sending them a message with the consequences, is driven by the need to save money, speed up the process and cut down on unnecessary delays.

Simon Bailey admits his ‘counselling and rehabilitation’ solution is because police don’t have the manpower, budget and time to investigate and prosecute the thousands of paedophiles a year who are guilty ‘only’ of downloading and ogling indecent images and, so far as police are aware, not physically assaulting children – yet.

So the law is certainly changing. The distinction between right and wrong? Forget it. The pursuit of justice? Doesn’t matter.

Obviously the most important considerations and priorities for courts and the police today are cutting costs and meeting budgets.

Protecting the children who have been abused and damaged, filmed or photographed and their images sold online for the titillation of paedophiles? Well, who cares about that?

Everybody would – including Simon Bailey and members of the SCTS if they imagined for one moment that child was their own.

Sometimes the pros know best

THE apparent outrage over an e-mail showing that council officials held some information back from councillors during the tram fiasco might well be a red herring.

The reason councils have professional employees such as legal and financial departments is because when it comes to such specialisations and high- level business negotiations, councillors – who are temporary and could be voted out at any time - are generally as amateur as the average citizen.

It’s their job to decide to go ahead with tram systems, cycle lanes and construction projects as “the client”, but it’s the professionals who have to deliver.

Legal and financial experts know when to share information and when to keep schtum during negotiations. Without that specialist knowledge, councillors could easily have given away too much, put their foot in it and messed up even more. So let’s not be too quick to jump to conclusions.

Naked truth about social tolerance

THERE are times when the law really does draw a distinction between good and bad.

Property developer and naturist Paul Edney came to court in Stirling last week. He had been walking naked in the Ochil Hills, taking in the views and exchanging polite pleasantries with those he met. On three occasions he was reported to the police.

He wasn’t rude or behaving in a sexual or threatening manner. He was admonished and was not put on the sex offenders’ register because the Sheriff ruled there was no ‘significant sexual element’ and the criminal record was punishment enough for a respected businessman.

I’ve never understood why simple nudity, in this day and age of barely dressed pop stars and movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey, could cause ‘alarm and annoyance’ to anyone but a chaste, cloistered nun.

Naked ramblers might be eccentric but they’re not ‘bad’ flashers.

Complainants should get a life.

ET, don’t phone home in the car

AT long last there’s a real clampdown on using mobile phones when driving and just one offence can see a young driver disqualified. Turn your phone off, or risk your licence. Simple.