Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘general election

Right to self-defence

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The recent case about Munir Hussain who chased and beat a burglar, causing him serious injuries has, apparently, lead to an outcry in newspapers which I tend not to read. This has, in turn, led to the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, saying that ‘there is “genuine concern” that the law does not provide adequate protection to householders and that an incoming Conservative government would consider strengthening the laws governing how much force householder can use when defending themselves and their property against intruders and burglars’ (BBC Today).

I don’t see how the case of a man who got a cricket bat and a gang of men to bludgeon a man almost to death for trying to break intp theit house should result in a review of the law but, according to the leading politicians in this country it seems to. Catharine Bennett has written about why the whole thing is a disgrace but I thought I would add a criminological angle.

When listening to the interview with Chris Grayling on the Today programme this morning I couldn’t help but think of Garland’s ‘limits of the sovereign state’ thesis in which the state recognises it’s limits in a late-modern society and responsibilises members of the public to look after themselves. This act of populism seems to adhere to this argument incredibly well- the state has realised that it might not be able to deal with the offence of burglary- it can’t have police officer on every street corner ready to catch whichever baddy might be about to strike so it gives the members of the public the right to do this job for them. Except this right already exists and allows for proportionate acts so that people can defend themselves and their property. The judge in the Hussain case decided that his actions were not proportionate- which seems like a fair adjudication to me- although others may disagree.

What Grayling’s proposals signify to me is that the law will now allow disproportionate actions in defending one’s bodies and property. The state seems to not only be recognising its limits here but it is giving individuals citizens more rights to inflict violence than the state which signifies something more serious than Garland’s thesis suggests. It could perhaps be more accurately described as ‘the dispersal of the sovereign state’.

Locke said that political power is the:

right of making laws, with penalties of death and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of emplying the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and … all this only for the public good (Locke: 118 my emphasis)

These ideas put forward by the Tory government are in line with Locke’s conception of political power in that they are giving the community the power to enforce the laws made by Government. The big question is, in this case, is bludgeoning a man half to death with a cricket bat ‘for the public good’ or not? If the judge is asked to decide on a case on the ground of ‘public good’ then I might not have any major quarrels but I fear that the wording of any law to come from this scenario may be considerably more individualistic than Locke could have ever imagined.


Garland, D. (1996) ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society’. British Journal of Criminology 36:445-471.

Locke, J. (1962) Two Treatises of Civil Government [1690]. Ed. W.S Carpenter. Originally published 1924.. London: J.M. Dent.


Written by criminologyandstuff

December 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Alan Johnson and the Asbo

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I’m not a fan of Asbos, mainly because I think they criminalize legal behaviour. The most worrying aspect of this is when a person is imprisoned for breach when the original behaviour was not criminal. So, when  I heard on the radio that Alan Johnson was issuing guidelines to the police to the effect that more people who breach Asbos need to be apprehended and convicted I was sceptical- surely this will just lead to more even more criminalization. That this has come out of the Fiona Pilkington case doesn’t really seem to make sense- the problem wasn’t that the perpetrators of the ASB hadn’t been apprehended for breaching their Asbos but that the council and police had failed to react to calls for help.

Maybe the police should take a more active role in the decisions to request an Asbo- they are trained in making a case to the court and can draw on other concepts important in the criminal justice system such as legitimacy and discretion but should they simply focus on bringing a case against breaches? Resources simply wouldn’t allow this- accusations of anti-social behaviour require (or should require) a great deal of investigation- after all, you’re running the risk of putting someone in prison for non-criminal behaviour. They should not be a way of delivering justice on the cheap or on the sly. Moreover, I really do believe that allowing local councils to have complete control over ASB is wrong- and limiting their discretion even more, as Johnson wants to do, is doomed to fail. Council officers already have very limited discretion which means that (defensible) decision-making can’t happen. Considering criminal justice process relies on discretion because it is the way laws get put into practice (see Hawkins 1993 for example) removing it not only leads to resource problems but can also undermine any belief, legitimacy and trust people have in the system.

It seems to me that the solution lies in better partnership working but also a move away from the targeting of low level anti-social behaviour and towards the stuff that really harms people- you know, like criminal behaviour- weren’t the people who terrorised Fiona Pilkington guilty of harassment? If the ASB route hadn’t been followed, maybe they would not have been able to inflict as much damage as they did. Oh, I temporarily forgot- there is an election round the corner and anti-social behaviour is sure fire vote winner.

As an aside, I noticed that in the Guardian article linked to above, ASBO has become asbo- it appears to have to become a word rather an acronym- when did this happen and what does it mean? Are they now so normal that the word itself is enough to signify the meaning rather than the full “Anti-Social Behaviour Order”?

Written by criminologyandstuff

October 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm