Speedy riot prosecutions in the UK may be too speedy

Much has been made here in Vancouver on the speed in which the UK courts are acting on their rioters. The Guardian reports on 2 young gentlemen, aged 20 and 22, who have been given 4 year sentences for “inciting disorder” on Facebook. All well and good. However, this jumped out at me:

Neither of their Facebook posts resulted in a riot-related event.

So…their Facebook postings didn’t actually lead to violence. They were just being idiots on Facebook, like so many others before them. However, unlike the others, they’re going to jail.

Speed is indeed important when dealing with ongoing civic disorder, because the deterrent effect erodes as hours and days go by. And inciting violence is serious business. But they weren’t actual looters, and their postings didn’t actually, you know, incite violence.

Punishment, yes, but is 4 years in jail actually appropriate here?

I can’t help but think, acknowledging the details of the case are light in the Guardian article, this is justice too harsh, too fast. It suggests the actions of a government actually afraid of losing control.

UPDATE: There are more details in this article. Punishment seems appropriate, but I stand by the notion that 4 years incarceration is too harsh. This too, stood out:

The revelation that magistrates were advised by justices’ clerks to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with riot-related cases alarmed a number of lawyers who warn it will trigger a spate of appeals.

The UK Riots are a different animal than Vancouver’s riot. The later was basically over in hours, while the former lasted days and spread from town to town. There was and is a real incentive for British authorities to act quickly. Not to excuse a draconian crackdown, but who knows what dark doubts they might have harboured in the heat of the moment:

Perhaps this isn’t a riot, but an insurrection

Maybe, just maybe – given rioting is not ongoing and probably won’t occur again until the next time the Canucks play a Game 7 in a Cup final (oh, around 2034) – Canadian authorities are taking their time because they want to minimize the chance of appeals. I have no idea if that’s the case, but you should at least consider the possibility.

UPDATE 2: Essex police charge man over water fight planned on BlackBerry Messenger

A man will appear before magistrates next month for allegedly trying to organise a mass water fight via his mobile phone.

The prime minister said last week that the government would investigate whether social networking platforms should be shut down if they helped to “plot” crime in the wake of the riots.

The 20-year-old from Colchester was arrested on Friday after Essex police discovered the alleged plans circulating on the BlackBerry Messenger service and Facebook.

The unnamed man has been charged with “encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence” under the 2007 Serious Crime Act, police said.

I’m sure the British people are sleeping easier.

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3 comments

  1. Norman Farrell

    It may be an imperfect system but when the British Appeal Courts have had their say, the outcomes are likely to be considerably different than appears likely today.

    In criticizing the Brits, don’t go too far in defending BC administration of justice. I’m not particularly upset that Stanley Cup louts have not yet been dealt with but I could point out many important cases that have taken years to wind their way through the system here. For example, Vancouver billionaire David Ho was accused in 2008 of offences, including unlawful confinement. He is still awaiting trial and was recently charged with possessing a prohibited weapon and breaching his bail conditions.

  2. Pingback: Thought Crimes? – 2 men get 4 years in British jail for THINKING about a riot. « YourDaddy's Politics
  3. spartikus

    I certainly hope the British Appeal Courts lighten these particular sentences because it strikes me these two gents were suffering more from idiocy than criminal intent.

    I’m not sure what’s going on with our own riot prosecutions. It might be a carefully considered strategy on the part of the Crown to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Or the delay might be because they are under-resourced. Or both. As you point out, our system is chronically stretched to handle even the regular caseload in a timely fashion.

    So many institutions in this province suffer from the same underfunding.