Saturday, 15 January 2011

Damocles descended : the sentencing of Edward Woollard

On January 11th, 2011 Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC handed down a "deterrent sentence" to Edward Woollard and sent him to prison for 2 years and 8 months. 18 years old Edward had acted dangerously by putting the lives of others at risk during  a protest in London about a government decision to increase  student tuition fees. On November 10th, 2010 Edward threw a metal fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative Party’s headquarters building at Millbank in London. The extinguisher narrowly missed falling on policemen and other protesters who were on the pavement and street below. The sentence the judge meted out to Edward was intended as a warning to others who might do something like this in the future.
Edward’s impulsive and dangerous deed was outrageous but in essence it was impelled by the same overwhelming excitement which has induced innumerable young people to carry out potentially dangerous acts when for the first time they have become a part of the drama of what they believe is righteous protest. Peaceful protest is a right. Protest is also a part of the adolescent process so necessary for human development. Many of us, however old we are now, may at some time in our lives have experienced the feelings Edward was having that day, but we were lucky enough not to have our impulsive, foolish and at times dangerous acts discovered. Equally some of us may have been discovered but were fortunate enough to be responded to by thoughtful adults who forgave our trespasses with a stern warning and gave us the opportunity to reflect on just how stupid our actions were. For most of us this response worked.
That’s why it is difficult to understand Judge Rivlin’s harsh, not to say vindictive sentencing of Edward Woollard. Edward, it is generally agreed, has previously been of good character. He is not a hardened criminal. He is not even an experienced activist. This was the first protest he had attended. After the offence was committed Edward accepted the advice of his mother to give himself up to the police immediately. Since the event he has consistently expressed contrition for his act. Judge Rivlin says he took this into consideration but it does not seem to have engendered judicial moderation. For the next 16 months at least Edward will spend time firstly in a Young Offenders’ secure unit and subsequently in an adult prison. Will this help him ? Will making an example of Edward stop other young people doing thoughtless and at times dangerous things ?
It is difficult not to conclude that Judge Rivlin’s decision has shown that the political and financial powers will be defended at all costs. If you threaten them or act to question their legitimacy you will not deal with the scales of justice you will feel the sword of Damocles descended.
Post a Comment