English justice (was Re: Pies in the face )

From: James Rogers (jamesr@best.com)
Date: Fri Feb 09 2001 - 12:12:14 MST

At 12:15 PM 2/9/2001 +0000, Charlie Stross wrote:

>Yes: which was exactly my point. Until Robert Peel's reforms, England
>didn't have anything that today we'd recognize as a police system. A whole
>load of reforms, happening around the same time, put the bite on crime --
>introduction of municipal police forces, introduction of detection skills,
>rationalisation of the penal code abolishing inappropriate draconian
>penalties (so that people would be more willing to turn their neighbours
>in for, e.g. pickpocketing), introduction of a real prison system ... and,
>not to put too fine a point on it, a long-term sustained economic boom.

Quite so. Before this, if you were convicted of a crime it was "cake or
death" -- no middle ground. However, an effective middle ground was
created with the increasing application of "clergyable" offenses, mostly
with regard to who could invoke that privilege. Obviously this is a poor
stopgap though.

>Misleading rot. The government in 1922 was *handing out* guns to combat
>vets because they were afraid of a revolution. Licensing of firearms
>at that time was used for political purposes, to prevent opponents of
>the state (read: communists) getting their hands on them. The current
>system of handgun control came into force mostly after WW2 ...

You are saying exactly what I did, just differently. Real gun control did
not kick in until the second half of the 20th century, nor did the serious
increases in violence.

Political licensing of firearms is *exactly* what many Americans fear about
gun registration. When people give the government an axe, they never
expect it to be swung at *their* heads.

> > I don't want to get into a debate over this, but violent crime dropped
> > sharply after the English started going out armed as a matter of habit
> > during the first half of the 19th century in response to the high crime
> > rate.
>Bollocks to that. Violent crime dropped sharply with the introduction
>of modern policing, the disarmament of the nobility, and the evolution
>of a modern judicial and penal system.

The murder rate at the end of the 20th century, when everyone has been
disarmed, is something like 50% higher than the murder rate at the end of
the 19th century, when people were armed to the teeth. While this does not
prove causality (anecdotal), it does disprove the inverse (i.e. fewer arms
=> less violence).

>You've got a *very* weird view of English history. I don't want to get
>dragged into a long thread on this, but if you want I have a friend who
>has recently finished a PhD in the history of English policing during
>the period in question -- I can put you in touch with him if you want.

My English history is by no means thorough. Try as I might, there are only
so many hours in the day. :^)

>Clue: the arguments I'm putting are his, not mine. Lest this sounds
>like an appeal to authority, I'd like to point out that I do _not_ have
>a PhD in the history of the development of the English police forces
>from 1820-1850. However, Chris's discussion of that period sounds a hell
>of a lot more plausible than yours (and he's happy to argue footnotes
>and primary sources).

This isn't inconsistent with what I am stating, and I have some familiarity
with the topic, though I am no authority myself (though I believe David
Friedman and others have written papers on this very topic IIRC). The
development of English police forces was in response to perceived failures
of existing systems in the early 19th century. However, the creation of
modern law enforcement in England itself created problems that hadn't
existed prior to its creation. In many ways, early 19th century justice
systems had many excellent qualities that are lacking today. One could
argue that the best solution would have been to make minor tweaks to the
existing mechanisms of justice (most of the problems were matters of
convention and tradition rather than fundamental structural flaws as far as
I can tell), rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater as has
effectively happened. Unfortunately, it seems that something similar has
happened in the U.S., although the historical context is a little different.


-James Rogers

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