Still no good
Following widespread objection to a new government law which would allow the state to remove profits from prisoners who represent their crime through any artistic medium, the government has issued two amendments in an aim to placate their critics and pass what remains an oppressive statute.
To recap, Part 7 of the Coroners and Justice Bill will create a new scheme of Exploitation Proceeds Orders (EPOs), to seize any proceeds an individual may make from describing their criminal experiences. Next Wednesday is the last chance for the House of Lords to review this flawed legislation.
The governmentâ€™s proposed amendments will firstly limit the regime to works about offences at the more serious end of the spectrum; offences that may be tried on indictment. Secondly, the government proposes to remove the extent to which the general public is offended from the list of matters that the court must consider when determining an application for an EPO.
In tabling these amendments the government hopes to turn a rather rotten pumpkin of a bill into Cinderellaâ€™s carriage. In this case, however, we believe that the Ministry of Justice has found itself lacking the requisite fairy dust.
A legislative guarantee that proceeds may only be taken from those tried by indictment is wholly meaningless. Crimes triable by indictment include breach of an ASBO, possession of cannabis and the handling of stolen goods. It is suggested that a government who will take proceeds from an artist who had bought a stolen DVD player or carried a miniscule amount of a minor drug is not doing all it can to exercise restraint.
The second amendment the government issued this week concerned what we have come to think of as â€˜the Daily Mail testâ€™. Under the statute, as formerly worded, the degree to which the public was offended was the litmus test for seizing the proceeds of any individual. Rarely has a more uncertain trigger to a criminal sanction been purportedly enshrined in law than, â€˜the degree to which the public is offendedâ€™.
The Howard LeagueÂ is pleased to see such a poor test removed from the legislation but we fear its absence simply makes the statute easier to trigger. Before confiscating the proceeds of a former prisoner the government is now required to meet one less criteria. We have major concerns that with this latest amendment there is simply one less hurdle for the government to pass over before acting; no matter how morally objectionable that hurdle was.
Quite frankly, the problem in this case is not with the amendments but with the part of the bill itself. It is simply not possible to add a sentence here and remove a sentence there and turn a poor piece of legislation into a good one. The bill still fails to safeguard victims of crime, therefore failing its central objective. It still has little or no limitation on who or what counts as a criminal act and it still punishes people twice over on the most tenuous of grounds.
Perhaps in a fairytale world Jack Strawâ€™s magic wand might be enough to save this hopeless statute. But in reality there is only one thing to do with a rotten pumpkin and that it is to throw it out; all of it.