One gets the distinct impression that Themis, aka Lady Justice, sometimes doesn’t play her hide-and-seek fairly. When it comes to some laws, such as drink-driving, she is illogical, extortionist and often, well, unjust.
It’s the only law I can think of that imposes a means-tested punishment on transgressors. The Newcastle footballer Joelinton got the chance to find that out first-hand.
Stopped and breathalysed, he registered just over the limit and pleaded guilty to the charge. The judge then explained to Joelinton that the sentencing guidelines call for imposing fines somewhere between 75 and 120 per cent of the perpetrator’s weekly wage.
He took it easy on Joelinton by sticking to the lower proportion, which in his case amounted to £31,085 on top of a 12-month ban. Case closed.
Since Britons tend to be sanctimonious about driving after a couple of glasses of wine, no protests followed the verdict, no cries of outrage, no rallies alliteratively demanding justice for Joelinton.
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to our self-righteous throng that means-tested punishments (except perhaps for some financial crimes) constitute a gross miscarriage of justice.
The logic behind that practice is lame. Someone who, like Joelinton, makes $43,000 a week, the story goes, isn’t going to be hurt by a fine of a few hundred pounds. A manual labourer, on the other hand, wouldn’t forget a penalty of that magnitude in a hurry.
True. But by the same token a tweedy Carlton Club member would suffer from incarceration much more than a tattooed thug who has been in and out of prison his whole life.
Does that mean that the former would get a lighter sentence for, say, murder? Don’t be silly, of course not. If anything, the toff would be sent down for longer than the thug. It’s class war, innit?
But do let’s develop the logic of drink-driving fines a bit further. What happens if an unemployed man is caught DWI smelling like a brewery on a hot day? By definition he has no weekly wage to use as a yardstick of his indebtedness to the Crown. Should he not be fined at all then?
Real justice calls for punishment to be commensurate with the crime. Thus, a murder conviction in Britain calls for an automatic life sentence regardless of the criminal’s solvency or social background. That strikes me as just: the judgement is passed on the crime, not the man.
While anyone can see the difference between a heinous felony like murder and a trivial misdemeanour like drink-driving, I can’t for the life of me fathom why we should play fast and loose with ancient principles of jurisprudence.
Moreover, I have fundamental problems with penalising drink-driving at all. This is how the judge in Joelinton’s case explained his verdict: “’You placed yourself in real jeopardy and it could have had disastrous consequences for the lives of others.”
I love the past subjunctive there. Joelinton’s having drunk two glasses of wine instead of the allowable one could have had disastrous consequences – but didn’t. Therefore, he was punished on the statistical probability of hurting others.
On the same logic, he might as well have been punished for being black. After all, black men are statistically much more likely to commit, say, murder than any other racial group. Hence, Joelinton ought to have been put in prison for DWB, driving while black.
Most sane people in Britain would reject this logic. And yet those same people see nothing wrong with punishing drink-drivers on the statistical probability that they may kill someone.
If we apply statistics to justice, then sober drivers kill a lot more people than drunk ones. Will you then join my campaign against DWS, driving while sober?
Another question seems apposite. How does anyone ever get to be stopped for drink-driving? There are only two reasons that come to mind. One, he is driving badly or even dangerously. Two, spot-checking.
Now the former really ought to be punished. And if the bad driver is also drunk, I’d have no problem with that being treated as an aggravating circumstance.
I’d even go so far as to suggest that, if a drunk driver kills through his own fault, he should be charged with murder. That possibility, one suspects, would trump a fine and a ban for deterrent value.
In other words, what is really dangerous isn’t drink-driving but bad driving, for whatever reason. Thus I have no doubt whatsoever that, say, high-speed tailgaters kill more people than drink-drivers.
I myself have had a few hair-raising moments in France, where chaps routinely sit a foot behind one’s rear bumper at 90 mph, or else blithely stray into the fast lane without looking. Lock them up and throw away the key, I say.
No wonder twice as many people are killed by cars in France than in Britain – this though our populations are roughly the same. Also, they have 10 times as many road miles per car, and their roads are generally much better.
The other possible way of stopping a drink-driver is spot-checking. Again, when that happens no loud protests are heard, as they are whenever the police stop and search a member of a protected race. In both cases they proceed from statistical probability, so what’s the difference?
All in all, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our courts have been largely turned into battlegrounds of class war and laboratories of social engineering. Themis is peeking from under her blindfold, and that’s about the worst thing that can happen to a country.
We can survive wars, economic crises and even Labour governments. What will eventually bring the house down is subsidence in the legal foundation of our civilisation. And it’s already creaking.