Friday, August 12, 2011

"Great Expectations" in the Big Society

Magistrate’s courts are sitting through the night to dispense a kind of assembly line justice. They need to: prison cells are full to overflowing.

The whole process has everything to do with politics: and very little to do wit justice.

I watched a news item about a woman pleading with the magistrate, maybe at 2am: saying that being remanded would mean her losing her job, and maybe her children, and maybe her home too.

She was remanded anyway.

It reminded me so strongly of the picture Jaggers paints of British society. In my version of Great Expectations it goes like this:

“I will put a case to you, Mr. Pip.
But understand that I make no admissions.
I put it to you Mr. Pip, that there was once a lawyer
No connection with anyone living or dead.
Who entered his profession with the highest of hopes
Because he wanted to do good in the world.
Remember that I make no admissions.
And this lawyer, Mr. Pip, with all his high hopes,
Entered into an atmosphere of evil.
Day after day, Mr. Pip, he went about his work and saw evil.
And all he saw of children, Pip, from the minute they were
From the minute they were brought into this evil world,
Was that they were brought there to be destroyed.
Day after day, Mr. Pip, he saw them being tried.
He saw them being tried at the criminal bar.
Day after day he saw them brought out to be whipped.
Brought out to be imprisoned, transported, neglected, cast out.
Qualified for nothing but the hangman.
Growing up for nothing but to be hanged.”

Pip has already witnessed wholesale injustice being meted out at the Old Bailey:

“In those days it was the custom
To devote a whole day of Court Sessions to the passing o
And to finish that day with the Sentence of Death.
On his day there were thirty-two to be sentenced
All crowded close together in a pen.
And a huge congregation had assembled to watch.
The Judge put on his Cap and confronted them,
The thirty-two who were doomed to die,
And he spoke of civic duty and the upholding of law.
He singled out my convict, who had so tried to help me,
As the one most signally, most rightfully
And most justly deserving to Die.
And then he turned to the others and sentenced them
One by one to be hung.
There were men, and there were women. Some were old,
And some were no older than children.
Some sat in stony silence and affected not to know.
Some tried to laugh. Some screamed. Some shivered.
Most wept.”

We have advanced some way since then in that we don’t conduct our war against the poor with the weapons of hanging or whipping or transportation for life.

But the war goes on. Here and in most of the world.

It's maybe our weapons have just become a little bit more sophisticated.

(There's a very beautiful account of how America has criminalised poverty here:

This is where we are going too. And the tentative steps we took in the past towards creating a just society and a better world are now very firmly in reverse.

As they have been for some time.

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