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Tuesday 10 February 2009
Letters: Youth justice
'Tough' Home Secretaries erode youth justice
The Big Question on the age of criminal responsibility (5 February) left out one important aspect. Research has shown that the reasoning skills of adolescents are not the same as those of adults. They do not understand the likely outcome of some of their actions in the way that adults do.
I prosecuted young people in central London youth courts between 1992 and 2003. Before Jack Straw abolished doli incapax, which required prosecutors to prove that the defendant child understood the difference between right and wrong, the younger children (10-13) had some protection from the severity of the juvenile and later youth courts. These children and young adults were also protected by the "welfare principle" which allowed the courts to deal with matters as welfare issues rather than criminal ones. A further protection was the availability of competent and experienced solicitors who were paid for the time it really takes to deal with the case of a young defendant. That too has been eroded by the changes to legal aid.
The two Home Secretaries who bear most responsibility for the embarrassing way in which we now deal with young offenders were Michael Howard and Jack Straw. Both were keen on being seen to be hard on "feral children". Neither listened to wise advice from the Howard League for Penal Reform or even the then stipendary magistrates who spent a lot of their time dealing with young offenders.
I am afraid until the British tell their politicians they do not want to watch a competition on who is the hardest man on young offenders, we will not see intelligent reform of the law.
Having read The Big Question about the age of criminal responsibility, and almost being persuaded that it should be raised, I then read about the conduct of a group of 10-12 year old youngsters who were caught roasting two puppies over a bonfire. Don't please tell me that such people should not be held totally responsible for their actions.
Curb bonuses and cut City risk-taking
The primary reason for the outrageously high payments to the designer-labelled barrow-boy City slickers is the over-simple reward system. The City rewards the "ups" but does not penalise the "downs". That encourages risk-taking. A trader can make a large bonus from the profit on a deal but when that deal or the share price falls, there are no sanctions.
In the good old days when life was simple, every day was sunny and back doors were left unlocked, a life-assurance salesman would be paid what was known as "indemnity commission" on any contracts that he sold. If the salesman sold a £100-per-month policy to a client , he earned say £1,000 in up-front commission. Over the next twelve months, the client paid his £100 per month and at the end of the year, the salesman's commission had been paid for. However, if the policy lapsed in the meantime, the commission was "clawed back" pro rata. That discouraged selling policies to high-risk clients.
With systems that all financial services companies operate, it would be simple to create a payment system which took into account the often negative consequences of trading. Bonuses could be paid but with a "claw-back" period . That would have the added effect of stabilising share prices because it would not be to anyone's advantage to, say, dump shares in order to depress a price. Such actions would affect bonuses.
It is now time for those nice people at the Financial Services Authority to bare their teeth and take control.
The argument of having to pay obscene bonuses in order to hire "the best" has been used before. "The best" used to mean the most aggressive and most ambitious and the most likely to take shortcuts. We now have the opportunity to enter an era where "the best" means the best-qualified, the most knowledgeable and the most professional.
GlYNDE, East Sussex
This morning I was astonished to hear someone from the banking sector defend their bonus system on the grounds that to scrap it would drive talent into other areas of commerce.
What talent would that be exactly? These super intellects invested in pyramid schemes, projects offering suspiciously high rates of return, and mortgage recipients whose financial viability they neither knew nor cared. We minor intellects have always been wary of people offering deals that seem too good to be true, and are decidedly sceptical about lending our money to anyone but close friends.
Perhaps we would all be better off if these talented individuals were encouraged to become self-employed, where their monumental cock-ups would only give themselves grief?
Rachel Michaels (letter, 6 February) argues against bonuses, on the grounds that we would not mind if bankers did go abroad. However it is not just a question of whether we want to keep them, but of who would take them.
Given the state of the global banking industry where are these enticing jobs for British bankers to be found: and can we envisage what the CVs would say? "Greedy and dim banker seeks position. Has successfully destroyed own banking system so now looking for cushy number with large bonuses, preferably ring-fenced with strict regulatory system for avoidance of lasting damage."
Angmering, West Sussex
I expect that the phenomenon of "Schadenfred" being experienced by millions across the country will increase this week as the bankers appear before the Treasury Committee for a good grilling. "Schadenfred" is the enjoyment of another's misfortunes, specifically those of Sir "Fred the Shred" Goodwin and his like, whose rapid fall has given some slight cheer to those who have seen their savings dissolve as a result of his running of the universe. The feeling rapidly dissipates, however, when one remembers that his pension will be £579,000 per year for the rest of his life.
It isn't really surprising that Brown and Darling have failed to lay down the law about banking bonuses. Apart from being still in thrall to the financial world, despite all that has happened, they may not want to upset prospective employers, what with a not necessarily winnable election on the horizon.
There was a moment a few months ago when the banks were bankrupt. If the taxpayer had not stepped in they would have folded. At that point any bonus contracts the staff had become null and void. So we do not pay. Simple.
If Government agencies are fully prepared to be seen "closing in" on working-class mortals such as benefit cheats and road-tax and TV licence dodgers (gleefully announcing their ominous intent on television) it is high time overpaid banking executives, MPs and others in high places, when caught out in wrongdoing, were treated the same.
Punishment is the only way to defeat criminal irresponsibility. "Sorry" won't cut it.
Walton on Thames, Surrey
Let Chagos people look after islands
The Chagos Islanders were wrongly removed, not just from Diego Garcia but from the archipelago over 30 years ago ("Giant marine park plan for Chagos", 9 February).
Years of campaigning and legal wrangling finally won them the right of return, only for it to be snatched away by a House of Lords judgement. They are now heading to the European Court of Human Rights in search of justice.
The islanders are best placed to protect the pristine environment, and to ensure it is not over-fished, or illegally occupied by wealthy itinerant yachtspeople.
The proposal to make the islands an international nature reserve would be best achieved by the Government ending its absurd and expensive ban on the islanders returning, and giving them employment to protect the place they know and love.
Jeremy Corbyn MP
(Islington N, Lab)
Chair, Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group
House of Commons
Why schools close when it snows
The Independent's editorial of 7 February was contradictory. After castigating schools for closing because of snow, it went on to point out that school staff are often obliged to live far from their schools for financial reasons, so that even if pupils can get to school, teachers cannot.
Who would be criticised, I wonder if, schools having opened, conditions worsened such that neither pupils nor staff might be able to get home, and an early closure (which not all parents might hear) was belatedly announced?
Unlike football, a day's education is not a matter of life and death, even if meaningful education were possible in a half-attended, disrupted school.
Dr David Moulson
The drivers of 4x4 vehicles have become pariahs, criticised for driving fuel-guzzling vehicles that deserve punitive taxation. But when there's six inches of snow on the ground we are amazingly transformed into heroes, delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly, and helping with other vital services. Would politicians and opinion-formers make up their minds? Are we heroes or villains?
J A A Johnson
If smaller communities are deemed not important enough to grit as stocks dwindle, how does that reflect on the charging of council tax?
Severn Crossings closed. England cut off.
Guisborough, North Yorkshire
Taking offence at the BBC
Perhaps Top Gear should invite the Prime Minister to feature as the "star in a reasonably priced car", as a penance for Jeremy Clarkson's quip. Visual impairment aside, Gordon Brown's level of skill on the track would be anybody's guess, but think how he could thrill Jeremy and the audience with a breakdown of exactly why the car and its components remain so reasonably priced in the current economic climate.
If any apologising is to be done over Golliwog-gate it should come from the arch-snitch who has created a Stasi-like culture at the BBC. Who would want to work for this organisation where any overheard innocent chance remark could result in the sack?
Not so special
Michael Johnson's proposed solution for "the special relationship" is absolutely right. Before secondment to Washington in 1972, as science and technology counsellor at the British embassy, the official briefing I was given was quite clear: never refer to "the special relationship"; and be wary of anyone else who does.
James F Barnes
I am amazed at the arrogance of Antony Worrall Thompson (report, 9 February), who seems to think that the bank has a duty to bail out his failed business. When he doesn't have enough confidence in it to put his own house on the line ("an horrendous risk"), why would anybody invest in it? What makes him think that my savings should be put at risk and his own not?
What a lovely idea: peer review of the Bible (letter, 5 February). However, should the panel be a group of other gods, priests or believers? Imagine the snorts of derision from Ra, Zeus, Jupiter and Thor to the idea that there should be only one God. (The Aten might have nodded in approval, provided it was him.) And what about all the ghastly South American deities with their dietary need for human hearts? No, only a panel of "true believers" could have passed it – which is where we came in.
Dogs on film
In your piece about dogs in Hollywood (5 February), you missed out the dog's most important function, which was to help the film editor. When a cut between two shots did not match, the best way out was an appropriate reaction shot between the two. If there was not one, a shot of the dog looking up was the get-out. So even now when a cut cannot be made to work you hear "Oh, I don't know. Cut to dog?"
How to eat
The other day I bought a lemon tart from Sainsbury's. On the side of the box was a "serving suggestion": the photo showed a slice of tart, on a plate with a fork beside it. Wow, why didn't I think of that?
M R Stallion
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