December 30, 2005


English Murder (Ferdinand Mount, The Spectator)

[T]he most remarkable fact about homicide in Britain today is that it has increased at a gallop over the past 40 years.

I don't think this was an inevitable historical trend. After all, from 1946, when Orwell wrote his essay, to 1965, the rate of homicide actually declined slightly, from 340-370 cases per year to 300-325.

Then, in 1965, capital punishment was abolished. Thereafter, there has been a remorseless increase in the number of homicides recorded by the police, to 396 in 1970, 621 in 180, 661 in 1990 and 853 in 2003-04. This increase has been matched by the number of convictions secured. In 1965, a mere 58 people went to prison under the mandatory life sentence that replaced the hangman. By 2003, the figure had risen to 277.

With most crime statistics, there is room for dispute. Their ups and downs may be due to the diligence of a new chief constable or some more or less subtle change in recording practice. But about a pile of dead bodies there cannot be much argument.

These homicide statistics are in fact the most reliable evidence for the claim that England and Wales have become progressively more violent. Nowhere near as violent as South Africa or Russia - or Scotland. But certainly something disquieting is happening. It is not all whipped up by the tabloids.

Yet when the Law Commission this week put out its consultation paper calling for a new Homicide Act, these facts seemed to play no part in its argument. In fact, the homicide statistics were excluded altogether from the 53-page overview and were only to be tracked down in appendix G, on page 323 of the full document.

Nor was there any mention of the startling growth in homicide in the approving leaders in The Times and in the Guardian, which called the commission's proposals "both logical and judicious".

Mr Justice Toulson and his colleagues complain that the present law of homicide is "a mess". They propose instead to create American-style first and second degrees of murder. These, along with a reformed offence of manslaughter and the sentencing tariffs that guide judges these days, would enable them to grade and label different types of murder.

The whole question is seen from the point of view of securing a satisfactory internal consistency of treatment, so that judges can totter off to their lodgings with the warm inner glow of one who has just solved a fiendish sudoku.

Nowhere does the commission appear to ask itself the larger question: will these proposals act as a stronger or weaker deterrent to anyone preparing to inflict grievous bodily harm on his neighbour?

You want it to be rational and effective?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2005 12:00 AM

the police in the u.k. are notoriously incompetent. socialist countries really only worry about political crimes, and don't put much emphasis on protecting people from harm. read about the Frederick West case, for example. the police would come around asking about a person who had been living at his houde, he would say they left, and that would be that. they were all in the walls and floors.

Posted by: sherlock toe at December 30, 2005 4:36 PM