It’s been widely reported that Jack Straw has turned down parole for Ronald Biggs.
For the parole board to recommend his release may be humane in the individual case, but it would not be right in the broader public interest to release him: I agree with the decision Jack Straw has taken. As he’s rightly said, Biggs would have been free long ago, and could walk into any pub in Margate or anywhere else, had he not escaped from prison in 1965. The freedom he wants now is the liberty he took between then and 2001 – from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair, from Bobby Moore to David Beckham and from the Beatles to Robbie Williams – when he preferred the cold lager of Brazil. He stole three decades from the public, and he still owes us plenty. He may never pay his debt in full, but the one thing he can do to make up for his crime is to serve every day possible of his outstanding sentence – and I think he should do so. That will seem harsh to some, but today’s armed robbers need to know that justice is remorseless in circumstances like these. That’s why Biggs should not taste the real ale of English freedom.
The ability and indeed duty of elected politicians to make decisions on that broader basis seems to me the best argument for their having the power Jack Straw has exercised; there is a real danger that cutting that power out of the system would result in the public’s interest in the matter being ignored.
I wholeheartedly agree. He came back when he was ill and the NHS would take care of him for free.
On another blog (The Magistrates Blog) I have argued the contrary though I think it is not an easy decision to make. It is also difficult and maybe impossible to argue that a politician is acting purely in the interests of justice when making this type of decision.
Do you think that Straw's action is either Wedbnesbury unreasonable or in breach of Article 3 (E. Conv. HR)? I do not think it to be Wednesbury unreasonable and I think it is unlikely that Art 3 is breached.
Whilst it is a difficult one, I am inclined towards thinking that Jolly Jack has missed a trick somewhere along the line. Keeping Biggs in clink, or not, hardly seems to matter. He's an old man and I would venture that the majority under, say, 40 years of age would not know who he is, nor care. If the objective is to punish or, indeed, to deter, then a deprivation of the one thing Biggs returned to the UK for would be appropriate, or at least play well with the public (albeit not the law, but let Biggs argue his way through the courts like many other poor sods have to). Why not refuse the man medical treatment at the expense of the public purse ?
I think that the Parole Board made the wrong decision and Jack Straw the right one but I think that there are problems here in terms of the separation of powers. How is this situation different from Harriet Harman's Court of Public Opinion?
This time I disagree with your view. I am at times accused of being a bleeding heart liberal; however, Jack Straw has erred in his decision here. A criterion Jack Straw should have taken into account when deciding this matter, is whether Ronnie Biggs would cause harm to the public (he didn't do this). Ronnie Biggs is in very poor health, so harm to the public is unlikley. I think Jack Straw's decision could be challenged on the grounds that he failed to take into account a material consideration.
But Anon, just because he didn't rule that way, it doesn't mean he failed to take the consideration into account.
James, I see the argument against political involvement: I think it's a strong one. But (perhaps emboldened by Lord Hoffmann…) I wouldn't be happy for judges' decisions to rule politicians out completely. There is a real danger of these decisions ending up as sort of private matters between state institutions and the individual – but there is a wider public interest than that. Yes, my way involves a danger of mob rule, but yours risks reducing democracy.
Barboy, I think singling him out to refuse NHS treatment if he were released would appear cruel, even to me; anyway I don't think he'd have any problem raising money from newspapers or sympathisers to get the best private treatment. I think justice is much better served Jack Straw's way. I'm liberal enough to be happy for the state to do what it can to help him medically – but the place that should happen is in prison. He laughed at British justice for decades, and would laugh again if we were soft enough to let him out. Justice must have the last laugh in his case.
Peter, I agree – I see nothing unreasonable in the decision, even arguably. And I don't think a3 comes into it.
Plus, James, I agreed with Harriet Harman – as I find myself often doing, in fact!
I must admit, I fail to see a particular problem – he was convicted and sentenced by a court, and then declined to appeal – by escaping.
He is now back and completing the sentence – the parole bard have suggested he might safely be released, but as I understand it, Jack Straw has declined to intervene, so he is left to complete the sentence imposed by the court all those years ago. JS isn't extending the sentence, merely refusing to allow someone out before they have completed the sentence of the court.
Is the power to release before the completion of the sentence a power granted by act of parliament, or is it some legacy royal perogative power (perogative of mercy ?)
Power to release is a statutory power – see Crime (Sentences) Act 1997.
Not with you on this one Carl – but I do have views on the purpose behind punishment…
I am less concerned about mob rule than I am about spin. If voters want a harsh sentencing regime then it is democratic to provide it but it is anti-democratic spin to provide it only in the cases which are likely to appear in the papers. This deceives the public.
I am not knocking spin per se. It may be politically necessary in a modern democracy. However, what is politically sound is not the same as what is constitutionally sound.
The problem is that Biggs would be a hero to every idiot who has even thought about armed robbery as a career. (Any Why call him Ronnie? Surely Biggs would suffice?)
"Good old Ronnie" they chortle in to their keg bitter or lager. "'e's a real champ! 'e never let them grind 'im down!"
But oh, look. "Good old Ronnie"… well, he still isn't out, even though he is a sick old man. So, maybe armed robbery isn't such a good career move after all…