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Psycho….

15 Sep

Ok, since reading the “Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson, I have thoroughly renewed my fascination with psychopathy. (Read it, by the way. It’s hilarious – which isn’t what you’d expect from a book about psychopaths…)

So what are psychopaths? These images inevitably creep into my mind…

Trying to remember the criteria I googled “psychopath test”, and found several links* encouraging me to check whether I am a psychopath, including a relatively detailed “self-assessment” by some psychotherapist in Austria*. No, I didn’t bother.

Anyway, rather than a simple “yes” or “no” regarding gaining psychopath status, the ‘diagnosis’ is based on achieving an above-average score in a particular set of criteria, usually the Hare Psychopathy Checklist , including:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioural controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behaviour problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

Each character trait is given a score of either 0, 1 or 2 and if you score 30 or over, bam, you’re probably a psychopath.

You probably know some people who seem to fit the criteria pretty well. But don’t worry, they might not be psychopaths.

To me, especially since reading the Psychopath Test, the two traits which stick out the most are a lack of empathy and behavioural controls. The lack of empathy may allow a person to succeed in the business world*, with apparently 4% of CEOs thought to be psychopath whilst only making up 1% of the general population. However, after all that success, they can stab someone to death in a moment for jumping a queue.

By this point, society is probably worrying what to do about these uncontrollable creatures. The FBI notes how psychopaths make up a hugely disproportionate percentage of offenders (10-15) in comparison to the general population (1, as mentioned above). Obviously, after brutally killing people, it’s assumed that the justice system is going to deal with the matter.

However, as many neuroscientists* have discovered, many psychopathic traits, most dangerously the lack of empathy, are genetic and thus predetermined. This had huge implications. Ultimately, this means treatment is unlikely to be successful and prevention pretty much impossible.

Would it be fair to incarcerate someone based on the fact they may or may not commit serious crimes in the future, based on their disposition to violence?  Most of you would probably say no.

I guess we just have to wait for them to………………………..………snap.

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*http://wisdomofpsychopaths.com

*http://www.counseling-office.com/surveys/test_psychopathy.phtml

*The book anonymous lawyer comes to mind

* Including a relatively recent study by those at the University of Chicago and University of New Mexico – http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1681369

Courtroom advocacy in decline?

13 Nov

Previously, solicitors could only represent their clients in a magistrates court, whereas a barrister would represent the client in higher courts.  Now, solicitors can apply for different advocacy/representation rights and represent their own clients, and collect both fees. Barristers can now also apply for “direct access” to clients, but this is rare and relevant in only certain sectors.

I doubt the role of barristers is being challenged, however many claim that the junior bar is being deprived of work and ultimately the quality of advocacy will decrease as work is not passed on to those specifically trained and experienced in the profession.

The most significant question however is whether the blurring of the different roles has contributed to miscarriages of justice.  The Bar would argue it has. The Law Society itself has agreed their advocacy training is “not fit for purpose”. Apparent lack of familiarity with rules and courtroom procedure or advocacy generally may give an unfair advantage to the prosecution (or the defence if we’re talking about in-house CPS advocates).

With cuts in legal aid contributing to the decline of the “legal aid equality myth”, the justice system really doesn’t need any more obstacles.

Get rid of the “middlemen” (we can apply that to either profession actually) and reduce costs or encourage each to stick to their traditionally defined roles to ensure the quality of advocacy and therefore justice is preserved?

Illegal to be fat?

9 Nov

Although I had just discovered this interesting piece of information today, the obesity law in Japan has been in place since the 1st April 2008!

The “fat tax” encourages companies to reduce the size of their employees waistlines – 33.5 inches is the limit for men and 35.4 inches for women… (despite the heigh differences..)

This is to avoid the dreaded “metabo” which includes health risks from stomach fat, high blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce the national healthcare costs associated with them!

That is certainly an interesting way of reducing government costs and is especially ironic as Japan is the thinnest developed country in the world with an obesity rate incomparable to that of the USA.

Companies will be fined if they do not reduce the number of “obese” employees, which will be noted through bi-annual check ups. Embarassed employees can chose “clothed” check-ups and deduct 1.5cm from their results and be forced to pariticipate in counselling sessions and “health-courses” if they fail to meet the requirements. Humiliating an already generally healthy nation into a healthy lifestyle?

“Goodbye, metabolic. Let’s get our checkups together. Go! Go! Go!” – a chant used to encourage employees…

Do we have the “right to be fat” – or should the state be allowed to impose requirements to reduce healthcare costs for the taxpayer?

 

Gun Control

9 Oct

Following the Aurora shootings and the shooting at the Sikh temple in wisconsin, the case for gun control has become increasingly relevant.

All forms of violent crime in America have fallen. All except gun-related violence that is. The gun-homicide rate per capita in the U.S. is 30 times that of Britain and Australia. I have this crazy idea that perhaps the relative ease of access to firearms may be a contributing factor…

The biggest argument against gun control is the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”

Restricting the sale or purchase of guns arguably infringes the right of an individual to “keep and bear arms”. Yet how can this be a right when possession often correlates with another individual’s loss of life – the biggest infringement of an individual’s right that there is.

Also, it’s the second AMENDMENT – you’re allowed to change your outdated constitution – especially as most you aren’t actually part of a “well regulated militia”, now, are you?

As for the self-defence claim, you are more likely to get shot if you have a gun in your home..

Wal-Mart recently sold ammunition to a minor. The fact that a supermarket sells ammo and firearms sounds absolutely crazy to me yet Wal-Mart is in fact the largest seller of firearms in the USA. All of this points to the inevitable issue of ACCESS.

Why not ban knives and cars also? Whilst they have the ability to cause damage and even kill, guns were created for the sole purpose of killing.

I believe that the licensing and regulation measures such as background checks and waiting periods are, whilst a positive stepping stone, ineffective and a total ban is necessary.

Not only common sense but evidence has shown that states with stricter gun control laws have a lower gun-related death rate.

The attitude of  “the world is still corrupt” despite any legislation that you may pass is entirely inappropriate. Although it may be true, why not do as much as possible to prevent tragedies from occurring?

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. …. Really? As Eddie Izzard puts it: “The gun helps..”

A sad comparison:     Hours before Newtown, a deranged man in China walked into an elementary school building and began to indiscriminately attack everyone in his vicinity. Before his rampage ended, twenty-two children had been hit. But while it sounds like Newtown, there were two crucial differences that share a common root. First, the man used a knife. Second, because the man used a knife, none of the twenty-two children were killed.

How this is a debate which the ‘pro-gun’ stance in America is winning is entirely beyond me.

especially 0:33

(having said all of this – my opinion in relation to guns and police is largely different.. I wonder how many of you agree with me?)

The Legal System hmmmm….

17 Jun

So after spending a week at the Old Bailey (not as a defendant don’t worry) some general thoughts have arisen regarding the nature of our legal system. Things that annoy me about it mostly. Even though I might point these out, I’m not actually smart enough to offer any solutions or alternatives.

Speed: Well it’s rather slow isn’t it….. A particular case I was following was dealing with an “event” that occured in 2007. It is now 2012. That is quite a long time… Although out of all the cases I saw that week that was an exception, none of the cases had reached trail less than a year after whatever had occured. I’ve got to say that is seems the only reason this is happening is because of resources, or a lack of them. Preparation would take a few weeks maximum if there were enough courts, barristers and time.

Jury: As rude as this may seem, allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to decide ultimately someone’s future based on a complex presentation of a case seems odd. However, having said that, it is the job of the prosecution and defence to present their argument in a way that is clear and understandable. My main issue really is that cases more often than not (especially for the more serious or copmlex) run into well over 2 weeks. In this case, the jury is only really representative of the people who can afford to take months at a time out of their life and cannot manage to ABSV themselve of their jury duty. Instinctively I would prefer our fate to be decided by a legal expert (the judge) who will consider the arguments (as he is supposed to act neutrally anyway) and come to a conclusion, since the decision is probably needed because of a breach of the law. But then all the other arguments obvious arguments come in. Misquoting Churchill when he spoke about democracy, something along the lines of…”It’s the worst system, except all others that have been tried”, which I think fits rather well to trial by Jury. Juries are already being removed for complex fraud cases, will this expand into other cases or is that just a horrible slippery slope fallacy? In some cases, despite clear instructions from the judge, the jury have ignored what has been said and either convicted or accquited, giving ordinary people a say as to the actual law…. a little worrying no?

Legal Aid: This is a good thing. Why are we (well the tories anyway) cutting it down? Isn’t equal access to justice quite an importnat principle in our society? I know Michael Mansfield agrees with me anyway! The fact that Barristers were recently thinking of striking should send out a strong messgae. £350m out of the MOJs legal aid budget – really? Couldn’t you just cancel the stupid olympic posters floating around every street corner annoying my eyes instead. Health, Education and the Legal System – the 3 main things I think a government shouldn’t mess with. Please.

Access: To the profession I mean. It is getting more and more competitive every year, which isn’t such a horrific thing in itself. The horrific thing is that by the time I finish my legal education I will be almost £50,000 in debt. Loans and all that jazz do exist, true, however you can’t argue that the figure may be slightly off putting to those who aren’t from bakgrounds used to those sums. And although there is an “equal opportunities” obsession going on at the moment, 2/3 of the bar are privately educated. 93% of the population are not. I’m sure (I hope) this will improve over time though.

I’m sure I have many other things to complain about – especially in relation to law – but my head is aching for my pillow so I think I’ll let you wait till next time!

 

Capital Punishment – yes or no?

25 May

Yes it’s the eternal debate. No, no one has come to its conclusion.

I won’t bore you with statistics as I’m sure you can find these for yourself to either strengthen or weaken my argument.

It has existed largely due to claims of its effectiveness in deterrence. However, by comparing the countries and states that use it, the link between the murder rate and the death penalty, as well as studies of many criminologists show it does not act as an effective deterrent. This is hardly surprising though, as the people that are most likely to commit the crimes worthy of the death penalty, I’m sure we can all think of an infamous psychopath, are unlikely to be deterred or care enough to distinguish between life imprisonment and execution. Despite this, many agree with the lighthouse idea that “”If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.”

In the 21st century, we would expect that if the death penalty is still thriving in certain states, then the most human methods possible would be used. Currently the methods vary between the lethal injection, a gas chamber, electrocution, hanging and a firing squad. Studies are still being conducted as to how some of these can be considered “humane”. Do we even need studies to do this for us?

Many of us see it as an abuse of human rights, which I personally find bitterly ironic despite the universal nature of these rights, which has become an increasingly sensitive subject. Let us compare our attitude towards the death penalty to the recently cancelled Chinese show “Interview before execution” in which journalist Ding Yu would interview people on death row every week, often those with only 30 minutes or so before they were to be executed. Videos which were available a few months ago have conveniently disappeared…

Closure for the families of the victims is an argument which has become less prominent as even families of victims have signed petitions to have the death penalty abolished despite their obvious emotional connections with it. Also, I don’t believe even doing so would bring any form of sufficient closure to victims families. The argument that by doing so we are somehow “treating darkness with darkness”, “evil with evil” or “stooping down to their level” is absolutely ridiculous. Should retribution not exist within out JUSTICE system? What IS pathetic is the fact that for killing someone, people often receive a maximum of 8 years under the UK’s legal system. Well that seems fair doesn’t it? By accepting our citizenship to whichever country we belong to, we agree to adhere to the laws within it, despite the fact we don’t have much of a choice. I don’t see why the death penalty should be any different. Although horribly overused I don’t see why “an eye for an eye” should not apply.

I must admit, that as a Jew, the religious perspective is a little confusing. The commandment not to kill is contradictory to the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle. Jewish courts that implemented the death penalty did exist, though there were an exhaustive number of conditions which meant it was hardly ever applied as well as being encouraged to avoid it. People claim that the state should not be responsible for people’s lives however the state is almost definitely in control, not only through the justice system, but of almost every aspect of our lives. Isn’t this simply a reason reform and develop the state? The issue of cost, due to the length of time that people are on death row, is not solved through execution, but again, isn’t this just a reason to reform the death penalty rather than abolish it?

My final point, and the only reason that I cannot wholeheartedly agree with the death penalty is the possibility of convicting the innocent. This is best demonstrated by quoting William Blackstone, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer”. Although some argue that this has largely been a result of legal technicalities rather than fundamental changes, there have been 130 exonerations in theUSsince 1973. The case of Derek Bentley, familiar to theUK, saw justice being provided 45 years after his hanging.

Without this issue, which outweighs all arguments in favour of the death penalty in my belief, and the other restrictive technicalities, I would have no moral objection to the death penalty.

Issues with our Constitutional arrangement

20 May

Despite the fact I have 4 exams next week, here I am updating this thing…   I did write this a while ago though so I’m letting myself off. This is based largely on the wonders of my Politics lessons regarding the issue, however the concerns are as relevant as they could be….

The extradition of Abu Hamza and others         –           The Other Side of Human Rights Abuse

Although the public mood has unsympathetically called for the deportation of the alleged terrorists, the conflict between adhering to the absolute guidelines of the HRA, which Britain has accepted and incorporated into law, and carrying this out was clear. This particular conflict was highlighted by the Abu-Qatatada case. Following a 6 year detention, the ECtHR blocked his deportation to Jordan on the grounds that his return may lead to torture being carried out on him. However a recent European Court judgement has allowed for numerous terrorists, including Abu Hamza, to be extradited to the US as there would be no violation of either Article 3 or 5 in being held in solitary confinement. Although they have 3 months to appeal to the Grand Chamber, it is unlikely they will succeed even if they decide to do so

Although the European Convention of Human Rights is seen as the definitive document protecting human rights it should be noted that it’s ambiguous nature as well as the several “exceptions” for example for in the “interest of national security, protection of health, morals and reputation and the prevention of disorder or crime” actually give significant room for avoidance. The ECHR was originally drawn up in 1950 as an agreement between 12 nations to prevent the atrocities that had occurred during WW2 from reoccurring. However, over time, this sensible conclusion has diverged considerably, allowing many to take advantage of the system in the name of their “human rights”. The most common method, which ministers are currently commanding judges to do their best to amend, of such abuse is using the “right to a family life”. As a result of having relatives, or in reality any relationships including wives and girlfriends, even if their relationship is in reality limited, can be used to avoid deportation. A particular case, involving Take Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, a failed Iraqi asylum seeker who had killed Amy Houston in a hit-and-run, sparked anger from both the public and the prime minister as he could not be deported due to his “right to a family life” with his wife, 2 children and 2 step-children he had gained since moving to the UK seven years previously. Neil Houston, the bereaved father of Amy, claimed with bitter irony that he had taken away his right to a family life. There is hope that following a consultation on Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and amended immigration rules, this defense will no longer be acceptable. However, any consequence of changes in British law that conflict with the ECHR will undoubtedly be challenged by the courts, in particular the EcTHR.

This has led many, in particular David Cameron and his party to call for the introduction of a British Bill of Rights to replace the HRA and ECHR. This had been proposed earlier by the then Justice secretary Jack Straw who claimed that judge’s interpretation of the act had led to the creation of a “villain’s charter”. The Lib Dems who are in coalition with the Conservatives are in fierce opposition to such a measure, implying there may be significant difficulty in passing this controversial piece of legislation. Due to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty which Britain has held for hundreds of years as a result of the lack of codification in its constitution, all laws, treaties and so on including the ECHR are subject to the current parliament’s approval. Unless codification occurs rapidly, this parliament cannot bind its successors. In theory therefore, Britain is not subject to the impositions of the ECHR, as long as it is willing to abolish the HRA which would exclude the necessity of the ECHR being upheld by British law or subject to the ECtHR. The call for a British Bill of Rights can therefore only be applies successfully if we agree to revoke the Human Rights Act. This however, may have numerous consequences. It would retreat in providing justice external to national and cultural boundaries, the Scottish Human Rights Commission claimed it would be a regressive measure and would act as an attack on civil liberties as well as making government less accountable, however opposition claims that currently the power is in the hands on unelected judges in Strasbourg which is worse. Furthermore, there are worries it will not stop criminals taking advantage of Human Rights unless we also agree to withdraw from the treaty. It could act as a global signal arguably encouraging abusive practices and allowing countries such as Russia and China to avoid criticism for their action. Many argue that rather than replacing the HRA with new legislation, better interpretation should be encouraged. Currently, the interests of national security, such as in the recent case of Jordanian Islamic cleric, which is itself an exception to the ECHR, conflicts with another article of the same convention. The public mood has without a doubt shown support for the first and is justifiably angry with the current abuses of the Human Rights Act.

This is unmistakably a constitutional issue which provokes much debate. In its current state, the Human Rights Act does little to protect rights due to its ambiguous wording and exhaustive “exceptions”. By revoking it and introducing a British Bill of Rights, there is hope that the negative aspects of protecting human rights will be eliminated, and in addition to existing protections from the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, Petition of Right and Common Law, will serve to carry out the original aim of protecting the fundamental rights individuals are entitled to.