Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Frances Lawrence and Learco Chindamo - whose rights?

Learco Chindamo, the Italian-born Londoner who at the age of 15 murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence, has won a legal battle against the Home Office. Foreign prisoners are routinely deported at the end of their sentence, but Chindamo argued successfully that, having lived most of his life in Britain, he should be allowed to stay here once he's released. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal heard that Chindamo has no links with Italy, no family there, and doesn't even speak the language - and that sending him there would be in breach of his human rights.

The reaction from the inhuman right has been rather predictable. The Daily Mail carries a photo of Frances Lawrence, her life ruined by Chindamo's senseless act of violence, with the caption "What about MY rights?". Today's leader is a foaming diatribe against human rights - those of criminals, apparently, are "exalted", whereas those of crime victims matter "not a jot". Iain Dale, writing somewhat more calmly and thoughtfully than the Mail, takes a similar line. He argues that the Lawrence family must forever live with the risk of running into the killer of their husband and father, which is a clear breach of their own rights.

It's easy to sympathise. The situation is clearly not fair - Mr Lawrence was killed for no reason, ripped out of the heart of his family. His right to life wasn't respected, and nothing on earth can right the wrong of his untimely death. It must be galling for his family to see Mr Chindamo's right to a family life protected (under section 8 of the ECHR) when he entirely ignored the most fundamental right of his victim.

But this is where we, as liberals, must hold our nerve. The entire point of human rights is that they apply to everyone, without prejudice, from the worthiest saint to the cruellest killer, because they are fundamental. And as The Independent correctly points out, human rights are not a zero sum game. Justice for the Lawrence family does not mean carrying out an injustice against Chindamo, who, once he has served out his sentence, will have paid his debt as best he can under any human system of justice.

Aside from the issue of rights, there are some important practical considerations. All EU citizens can travel freely in all EU countries, and it's very doubtful whether we could stop Chindamo from re-entering Britain. It's also fairly obvious that his chances of reoffending will be far greater if he's deported to a country where he has no connections, can't speak the language, and has no chance of building a stable and legitimate career for himself. And despite the Mail's assertion that Chindamo is a "squalid undesirable", it appears that he has used his 12 years behind bars to prepare himself for a useful life once he gets outside, learning how to read, passing four GCSEs, and mentoring youths who have become stuck in the cycle of gang culture.

A tiny minority of prisoners have been told they will die behind bars. Most know that someday they will re-enter the outside world - and for the safety of everyone, they should be let out in a state where they can lead decent, law-abiding and useful lives. Mr Chindamo, despite his horrible crime, is a good example of what our criminal justice system should be aiming for. It's utterly distasteful that a 15-year-old criminal can be condemned as a total lost cause, whatever his offence.

The dilemmas surrounding criminal justice are difficult for liberals. It's a thankless debate, because if we stick to our principles, we're sometimes forced to support the rights of some deeply unpopular and even deeply wicked characters. The obvious temptation is to keep quiet. The harder road is to tackle the question directly, and put forward an articulate and loud defence of universal human rights, explaining that we can only benefit from them ourselves if we're prepared to extend them unconditionally to all human beings. We might not win over the Daily Mail's editorial team, but we'll earn far more respect in the long run.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

11 comments:

James Shaddock said...

Of all the blogs on this, yours stands out as the best I've read.

Jonny Wright said...

Thanks! *warm glowing feeling*

Tristan said...

Also, the judgment did not centre on the HRA. It was a different law which was mostly responsible.

monsterravingloony said...

An excellent and thoughtful piece, and yes I agree with you.

I heard Frances Lawrence interviewed on the Today Programme and it is clear that all along she had been given to understand Chindamo would be deported and it has hit her as a bolt from the blue to learn he won't be. She admitted it was a visceral reaction in as many words. When you are a victim of a crime as terrible as committed by Chindamo you can take some comfort from the thought that the perpetrator will be forever far away. The plain logic, that they are unlikely to meet by chance if he stays in the UK, does not cut much ice with a victim in those circumstances.

While I have every sympathy with her suffering and predicament, her reaction has everything to do with natural human response and little to do with justice and fairness.

While it may not be a pleasant thought for Mrs Lawrence to know that Chindamo will be out and about in the UK, it is fair and just.

The radio interview was painful listening. James Naughtie had the difficult job of trying to elicit some understanding of Mrs Larewnce's position while treating her delicately and sympathetically. He tried to use logic but she was all over the place, making very little sense at all. Still too shocked to have got any sort of grip. When questioned about her preparedness as a Christian to forgive Chindamo, she tried to have it both ways and lost me completely. I don't want to criticise her because she is distressed, and with good reason, but while clearly intelligent and articulate she was unable to marshall her position coherently.

You hit the nail on the head with the point about zero sum game and justice applying to everyone. It will not be easy for Mrs Lawrence but that's the way it has to be.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that so many of you think that this murderer should be allowed to live in this country. The British are amazingly tolerant people (far too tolerant!) but how anyone can agree with this decision is beyond me. What about the rights of Mr Lawrence to go about doing his job without fear of his life - in fact doing more than his job to protect the life of one of his students? And then the rights of his children who have had to grow up without their father, when will you people understand that this criminal forfeited any rights when he comitted this hideous crime. I would gladly support and even demonstrate to have this act aboished.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you quite understand the whole point behind the Human Rights Act is to protect the inoccent and vulnerable. Meaning people who are victims of crimes such as murder and torture. I doubt that the intention was for it to create ways of escape from justice for those who deprive others of their human rights, such as the 'right to life' (article 2).
If this is what the human rights act has done then there's really no point in it. It seems people do not have the right to be protected from crimes, but all it's done is excuse those who have comitted disgusting acts of inhumanity against inoccents.

As for all people being the same and deserving the same rights, whether they're an inoccent teacher trying to protect someone from being attacked or a selfish homocidal teenager... if you really believe this, GET YOUR HEADS CHECKED!

It makes me sick to imagine what this country will be like once all the murderers and rapists walk around free because 'we have all caught onto the wisdom' that they should have the same rights as everyone else.

Those who talk about Mrs. Lawrence not being capable of thnking logically, consider your own point.
How can someone who has denied another human being their human rights be allowed to lay claim to their own?

I ask you, what's the point in human rights if now more than ever before people have the chance of getting away with crimes against humanity because 'the rights apply to everyone'?

DOES ANYBODY ELSE SEE THE LOGIC?!!

Anonymous said...

We are rapidly becoming a nation which seems to give too much thought to murders, sex offenders and so on. What about the rights of Frances Lawrence, who has had people on her doorstep telling her not to speak out over Learco, as well as suffering a burglary where it seems the only thing the thieves were interested in were documents and letters relating to the case. He should be deported as soon as he is released, and refused entry into our country should he try and re-enter.

Could you live with your liberal idealisms if he comes straight out of prison and back into a gang and stabs somebody else?

bookstolistento said...

It is said that the probability of punishment is more relevant to deterrence than the magnitude of punishment - but does that make the magnitude of punishment irrelevant entirely? The question I would ask is what effect will release after 12 years for murder have on the next Learco Chindamo? And the one after that... and the one after that... The same question may be asked about the decision to let him stay in this country upon his release from his short sentence – and 12 years for murder is short whatever the corrupt and the dishonest may say.

The perception that the legal tide now flows in favour of the criminal, itself encourages crime. Some would say that it is the tabloids who carry the lion’s share of the blame for this perception, by talking-up these persistent victories for the criminal. But they are only reporting the facts. The main guilt rests with the criminal-friendly judiciary. For it is their brazen misinterpretations of "Human Rights" law in favour of criminals that encourage the criminals to believe that the tide is turning in their favour. This encourages more crime and thus creates more innocent victims amongst the ranks of us lesser mortals who do not have our own police bodyguards.

This is the crux of the matter, because if we are thinking about human rights, then it is neither Learco Chindamo nor Philip Lawrence that we should make the focus of our attention. Rather it is next Philip Lawrence! In other words, how many people are being sentenced to death by these decisions?

Moreover, if such decisions are necessitated by the agreements that we have already entered into, then should be not de-ratify such corrupt agreements and enter into new and better-worded agreements that protect genuine human rights rather than bogus ones?

Is it beyond our capacity for common sense to conclude - correctly - that deportation of a foreign murderer is not a violation of his human (or European) rights? Or is it that our leaders suffer from the delusion that in order to enjoy the benefits of free trade and global cooperation we are obliged to enter into (and thereafter remain a party to) agreements that grant foreign (or European) murderers the right to remain in our country after they have paid the fragment of their debt to society that our criminal-friendly judges pretend is adequate to deter them and others from committing similar crimes in the future?

Open eyes and mind said...

I don't blame a 15-year-old more than he can be held responsible, but I blame his stupid father (condoms are cheap if you're not going to bring up your kids in the first place), and mother, and also the ignorant judge and sentencing system. What horsesh*t is it that you can call something a life sentence that is only 12 years? I've been severely depressed for longer than that, and no-one gives me as much help as this killer has. God knows I've had enough rage to kill someone (and reason, too), but I didn't do it. Injustice is often obvious, why ignore it? Why actively help someone like this when there's untold others whose human rights are challenged and abused every day who deserve more help but don't have the advocacy?

Diddy said...

I agree with "open eyes and mind."

The 12 year tariff on that vile murderer Learco Chindamo was itself a violation of the rights of Philip Lawrence, his family and the people of Britain. To say that Chindamo has the right to be released upon serving the minimum tariff, amounts to saying that criminals have the right to avail themselves of the pre-existing violation of human rights by corrupt, criminal-friendly judges.

Similarly, the enacting of laws enabling him to stay in Britain were a corrupt and depraved violation of British sovereignty committed by treasonous politicians. To say that Chindamo has the right to remain in Britain is again to use a previous corrupt decision - that was itself contra to human rights - as a springboard for the purpose of justifying a further violation of human rights.

Of course the absent fathers of violent criminals carry a share of the blame. So do their mothers, who - when they aren't walking the streets - are spreading their legs with reckless abandon to any gangster with a big salami.

But this does not mean that we the people should allow murderers to get off more lightly than they deserve.

The 12 year tariff was NOT Chindamo's debt to society: it was the PORTION of his debt that a criminal-friendly judge (who enjoys police protection) chose to impose. But we the people do not have that level of protection - or anything like it. Therefore we must protect ourselves! How? Simple - by giving Chindamo a taste of his own medicine.

http://bookstolistento.com

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