Posts Tagged ‘law’

The six reasons why we punish people

Monday, November 13th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

I studied law at high school and I was very good at it. But one thing I could never get my head around was the six aims of sentencing. When it came to punishing people, what was the point of any of it, other than rehabilitation? Surely that was our only job?

Times of changed and now I am older and wiser. My idealistic view of humans has taken a kicking at the hands of Steven Pinker and Michael Shermer. So, here are the other five aims of sentencing and why they are important.


Never had a problem with this one. If you can make it right, you should. I don’t think that view would be in any way controversial.


A necessary evil. Sometimes we need to lock people up to stop them hurting other people, or even themselves.

Detterence and denunication

I’ll put denunciation in here because there is a lot of overlap with general deterrence. Specific deterrence is making the individual criminal think twice before doing it again; general deterrence is making wider society think twice before doing it in the first place.

Both of these are important. Why? Because people are not inherently good. They’re not evil, either. They’re just people.

And, ultimately, people weigh up the consequences of their actions. And if the risk is worth the prize, they risk it.

So, you need carrot and stick. You need to give them a job and a place in the community to give them something to lose if they commit a crime. But you also need to make the deal not worthwhile with some stick, too.


This is the most contested aim of sentencing: punishing people because they deserve to be punished.

Why do we need to do this? Because people want to live in a fair world. And it causes us distress when that view is broken. When you find out there has been wrong-doing, you feel bad. You physically feel it. It makes us sad when we hear about unfairness.

So, crimes have to be punished. Just for the sake of adding an extra wrong, because, as we adults know, two wrongs do genuinely make a right. When someone is punished, it restores a sense of fairness to the universe and we all feel better.

7 surprising freedoms we enjoy in Britain

Monday, February 20th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

In an age when Theresa May seems determined to read every email you write, abolish human rights and arrest everyone on terror charges, it can feel like our freedoms are under threat (they are). However, on a more positive note, we British people enjoy some freedoms that a lot of the world does not.

Nothing on this list will be a surprise to you. However, what I think will be a surprise, is that the rest of the world does not have these freedoms. These are things we take for granted but are not always the norm.

Naming your child

In Britain, you can name a baby anything as long as the powers that be do not label it as offensive or rude. People take liberal advantage of this, regularly naming their babies after TV characters, inanimate objects or obviously incorrect spellings of real names.

This is not a freedom most of Europe enjoys: many countries have set lists of accepted names. You have to pick from the list and you cannot change the spelling.


Only wacky religious people tend to homeschool. However, you do have the option if you so wish. If you are tired of the school forcing facts down your child’s throat, you can pretend to be a teacher and give them an education yourself. You will seriously damage the child’s intellectual and social skills, but at least you will feel better.

We and around half the countries in the world enjoy this freedom. Each country has different levels of restrictions. For the rest of the world, homeschooling is illegal.


At some point in the history of the United States, the government and the people had the following conversation:

Government: “Can we take away some of the really big guns so that children stop getting massacred?”
People: “No! Keep your hands off our second amendment!”
Government: “Okay. Can we make it illegal to cross the street wherever you want?”
People: “Sure, that’s fine.”

It seems a bizarre way round to me. I like living in a culture where assault rifles are not allowed, but crossing an empty street when it is safe to do so is. But what do I know as a humble British person?

Germany also criminalises jaywalking. There is something odd about watching clearly inebriated Germans stumbling home, yet stopping at every crossing to wait for the green man.

Moving house without telling everyone

Do you find junk mail annoying? I do. When I move house, I do not want everyone to know that I have moved. I will tell the people I think are worthy of knowing: banks, utility companies, etc. For everyone else, I do not want your nuisance mail.

In Finland, when you move house, you tell the state. The state then tells everyone else. This is convenient because it means all of your banks know that you have moved house. However, what if you do not want to tell a bunch of for-profit companies about your new address?

Free healthcare, including birth control

We tend to think of free healthcare as something that all civilised countries have, with the notable exception of the United States. However, this is not always the case. Take Finland again, for example.

When you go into hospital, there is a charge per day. It is not the full cost of your hospital stay, but it is not insignificant. You also pay to visit your GP and pay higher prescription charges. For birth control, for example, you will be paying around €15 per month.

In the UK, we pay for prescriptions (not in Scotland or Wales) and dental, but these are both capped at relatively low amounts. Hospital treatment is without cost entirely (unless you want to watch the TV).

ID cards

Compulsory ID cards are overwhelmingly the norm. Britain is one of only nine countries[ref] in the world that does not have any ID cards.

Flag burning

Flag desecration varies by countries. In many, it is illegal. In some, it is prosecuted under wider laws.

In the UK, we are pretty relaxed about it. If you want to burn the Union Jack, feel free. There is no law against it. There have been some moves to tighten up on it, but none have come to fruition.

Of course, you may struggle if it is made of fire-resistant material. As this EU flag was, for example:

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 | Distractions

I always read a terms of service in full. Well, sometimes. Otherwise, how would you know what you were agreeing to? For example, you might be giving Apple consent to… well, lets not think about that episode of South Park because I have to eat in a few hours.

Enter Terms of Service; Didn’t Read.

These people actually have taken the time to read terms of service. Then they pick out the good and bad bits and give them a rating. This means when signing up to a service you can quickly see what you are agreeing to and whether it is reasonable or not. They even have a browser plugin.

Don’t pardon Turing

Sunday, July 21st, 2013 | Religion & Politics

A bill is currently making its way through the various structures, to pardon Alan Turing.

What a load of nonsense.

Alan Turing was guilty of homosexual activity. He was. Of course nobody for even a moment would pretend that is something that should be a criminalise offense! But to pardon one person is essentially saying “you did wrong, but you did a lot of good so we’re going to let you off”.

Is this the message we want to put forward? If so, I think it’s time we pardoned Julian Assange for those rapes he may or may not have committed. Clearly, we’re not going to be doing this.

What we we should instead by saying is “this law was nonsense, and anyone convicted of it is now exonerated of any wrong doing, regardless of how many German codes you broke”.

Don’t pardon Turing – pardon everyone. They never did anything wrong.


Sharia courts

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 | Religion & Politics

Recently, Panorama aired a documentary looking at Sharia Courts. You can watch it online if you missed it.

It was certainly an eye opener, though the sad reality is that many of us might not be surprised. The programme contained Islamic scholars recommending to women who said they had suffered domestic abuse should go back to their partners and perhaps try improving their cooking or making more of an effort to look nice, surpassing even the most distasteful sarcastic jokes you could dream up.

Of course, the programme couldn’t point out the end conclusion – that Islam is a bad women. They extensively pushed the idea that these courts were bad for women, or at least some of them where, but never really dared to suggest that the doctrines they are interpreting might partly be at fault too.

Being a libertarian, I’m not sure exactly how we could tackle this situation even if we wanted to though. A mediation service is perfectly acceptable, and indeed encouraged by our own legal system in order to free up more court time. So given Sharia courts are not legally binding and therefore the women there voluntarily submit to them, we have no right to interfere.

In fact, it’s unclear why the women actually wanted a Sharia divorce, when they had already received a civil divorce – given you’re not actually married if you get an Islamic marriage, why would you need a divorce? Just walk away.

There are some issues that can be and do need tackling though.

Firstly and foremost, any compulsion to use the mediation system. Obviously, this needs to be stamped out. This is a difficult one though because if your entire extended family considers the courts to be the law it must be very difficult to ignore. Sure you can just walk away, but that must be like trying to leave a cult. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see how we could tackle that given it is actually the doctrine, not necessarily the system, that is the problem.

Secondly, we can stop so called Sharia marriages. If they want to have a Sharia ceremony, that is fine, we Humanists do the same thing. But marriage is an actual legal term, and if you’re not actually providing a proper legal civil marriage, then calling it a marriage is deceitful and false and ultimately leads to the kind of situations where people getting divorced have no legal protection because they weren’t actually married.

A lawyer’s perspective on harassment policies

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | Thoughts

Last year there was a lot of talk regarding anti-harassment policies at Skeptics events and conferences. While the subject was hotly debated, nobody really thought to ask a lawyer about what the legal position of it all was.

Well, not quite everyone.

The key points for organisations is that they should have one if they employ staff, to make sure they are legally protecting themselves if there are problems with the people representing their organisations. But for attendees harassing each other, it’s much better not to have a policy, because otherwise you take on a duty of care to enforce it, and thus can be in trouble if you fail (or someone claims you failed).

If you do have one, you shouldn’t publish it in advance and all that it should say is that you expect people to comply with the law (as we already have laws against threatening behaviour, obviously) and if you don’t like people, you can kick them out without justification. This doesn’t sound too friendly, so you might just want to not hav a policy at all.

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that this doesn’t stop you clamping down on harassment. I don’t know anyone who has had a problem tackling it due to the lack of a policy. Indeed, you’ll probably be able to do it better since you can spend your time actually tackling and not merely drafting a policy.

Do we get the legal system we deserve?

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | Foundation, Humanism

This month at Leeds Skeptics, John Wilson, founder of Wilsons Solicitors, presented a talk “do we get the legal system we deserve?”

He argued that the legal profession was in need of a shake up. He used an analogy of the opticians industry, that thirty years ago was hidden away in offices, where nobody really knew how much anything cost, everything was slow and customer service was just shockingly bad. Today, after reform, you can walk into an opticians on the high street, get an eye test and select from a huge range of glasses, should you need them. Shouldn’t be going to see a solicitor be just as simple?

John argues that it should, and I imagine most of us will strongly agree with him! It was a great talk to round out the year, and one that I found extremely interesting.


Help homeless people, by going to the pub

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 | Foundation, Humanism

As you may be aware, the Humanist Action Group is currently staging its 2012 Holiday Food Drive for local homeless shelters in Leeds.

Next week, Leeds Skeptics hosts a talk entitled “Do we get the legal system we deserve?”, as part of their programme of monthly events.

Unlike a usual Leeds Skeptics event, though, we won’t be taking donations to help cover the cost of running the meeting – that is going to be covered by the organisers. Instead, all money donated will be given to the Holiday Food Drive.

So, if you fancy helping those a little less lucky than ourselves, in a way which simply involves you hearing an interesting talk in a great pub, then come along to the next meeting of Leeds Skeptics! Full details can be found on their website.

Legalise drugs

Monday, July 9th, 2012 | Public Speaking

For my second speech at Leeds City Toastmasters, the “Organize Your Speech” project, I spoke about drug decriminalisation.

It is something I have blogged about several times before because there really is no case for arguing that our current drug legislation is either helpful or sensible. I was a bit worried the talk wasn’t really coming together while preparing it, but I must have done something right as I ended up winning best speech of the meeting.


Edit: Five days after I had given this talk, the IDPC published their new report, “The War on Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How the Criminalization of Drug Use Fuels the Global Pandemic”, so if the topic interests you, you may want to have a read. There is also a good blog post about it by Richard Branson.

Notice to require possession

Friday, March 9th, 2012 | Life

On Thursday, 1 December I received a letter from my letting agent, Walker Singleton, stating they would be terminating my tenancy because they had to sell the apartment on behalf of the mortgage company. I was shocked and alarmed at the idea of having to leave me home, so I phoned their office. Multiple times. They never answered.

I eventually managed to speak to them the next day, and said that if they had to sell the apartment, I would just buy it (at the asking price!), it would be cheaper for them, it would be cheaper for me, no one would have to move, everyone is a winner.

They said no, claiming they had to sell it with vacant possession, and if I wanted it I would have to move out, wait for it go on the market, then buy it and move back in.

I went away and discussed this with a few people, and it didn’t make sense to any of us. So on the Monday I rang them back and explained to them the situation in more detail, and that HSBC had said they would give me a mortgage, so this really was an easy win for the both of us.

They said no. I asked why repeatedly but they wouldn’t give me a straight answer, just saying they couldn’t do it. I then asked if I could speak to the owner of the property, or the mortgage provider. They said that wasn’t possible, but wouldn’t explain why.

So I went to the Land Registry and got the title register for the property and found that the lender was Mortgage Express. So I phoned Mortgage Express and they put me through to Possessions. Possessions said they hadn’t taken possession yet, so I would have to speak to Late Arrears. So I phoned their help desk back again and asked to be put through to Late Arrears.

They said they couldn’t discuss anything to do with the property other than to confirm that someone had a mortgage on it, but because I wasn’t the account holder I wasn’t allowed any further information.

I also tracked the guy down on LinkedIn

Hi Richard,

I’m a tenant of yours, currently living at an apartment you own – Crown Street Buildings in Leeds. I’m just looking for some more information about what is going on, as I’ve been served an eviction notice.

Best wishes,
Chris Worfolk

He never got back to me.

So now I’ve moved out and everyone seems to have come away with a loss. Bad times.