Alex Massie

Paul Clarke Update II

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The national newspapers may not be terribly interested in the Paul Clarke case but, happily, legal blogger Jack of Kent is. He's produced a detailed account of the case, and the law, that I highly recommend.

Mr Clarke may not be the ideal poster boy for liberty but it's equally clear that this is of little to no import. What we have here, as Jack of Kent makes clear, is a case that makes a nonsense of a) strict liability offences, b) manadatory minimums, c) the police and d) the CPS. It's possible that e) the judiciary and f) the jury could also be added to this list.

Mr Clarke has not been sentenced yet. He could be discharged. Since no other party has disputed, or even sought to dispute, his account of events one can only hope that he will not, in fact, be locked up for five years for the crime of finding a shotgun and handing it in to the police. Common-sense may yet prevail.

At the very least, however, all parties may agree that this case, and others like it, demonstrate some of the problems with creating strict liability offences and, even more so, with mandatory minimum sentences. Since, alas, these latter help make politicians seem "tough" on crime we ought not to expect any reduction in their use.

One final thing: this story demonstrates the importance of local reporting. (Whether that be in the form of printed newspapers or, in the future, on the web). Without Holly Thompson's reporting for the Surrey Mirror this case would not have received any attention at all. One can only wonder how many other stories, how many other injustices, are missed thanks to the decline in court reporting.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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