Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.

Videos about Law & justice system

Live blogs about Law & justice system

Sara Hyde talk

SaraHyde_portraitSara also has a background in theatre. She starts with, acts rather than tells, the story of Katie: a beautiful small baby, neglected; moved into foster care, moved again and again; at 12 babysits and is raped by the father, and then all his friends; she runs away, and gets involved in crack and crime; at 18 she stabs an old woman; she’s had juvenile sentences, now it’s adult prison.

What does justice look like for Katie? How many people do we know that have been to prison? Why is it that the answer is lots for some and none for others?

Who ends up in our prisons? Other human beings. Sara is sharing statistics of the men and women behind bars. For example, how many have been abused or suffered depression, or attempted suicide.

Katie was not a sick fish as a baby, but grew up in unhealthy water. We need to change the water.

In recent years, the ratio of prison officers to prisoners has fallen. There is overcrowding. We are moving towards the US model of commercialised prison, but we can’t afford it. The National Audit Office says that there is no correlation between crime rates and numbers in prison.

Is there another way? 97% of people in prison say they desire not to reoffend, but 58% do. At HMP Grendon, a therapeutic prison, the rate is closer to 20%. This is due to focusing on relationships, giving time and place for human beings to relate to other human beings, and having a relational approach to justice.

We do still need prisons, especially for perpetrators of violent crimes. But what does relational justice look like? The principles include: a person’s acts may be bad, but they are still human; we all mess up; we need space to practise life; a prisoner may become a tax-paying citizen in the future; people are not commodities; prison is not an industry; what if people who sent others to prison were accountable for them; inequality means people don’t get equal chances.

On the ground, this means: reduce the prison population; use community sentences; reduce prison sizes; high staff ratios; use restorative justice, de-othering the victim and de-monstering the perpetrator; train and pay officers properly.

It is more effective to reduce crime by reducing drug use and providing mental health care than to put people in prison. HMP Grendon costs more per prisoner, but the lower reoffending rates means that it saves overall.

So where might Katie be now? What can we do, human to human, before we find Katie in a prison cell?

Clive Stafford Smith talk

CliveStaffordSmith_portraitFuelled by tea and a cookie, it’s now time for the second session – Global Connections – and Clive Stafford Smith.

He begins with a tribute to his aunt who died recently. She was born at the wrong time, when opportunities were not available to women. His dad had bi-polar disorder, which has led to some interesting stories! Many of his actions were not the action of a rational mind. His aunt couldn’t accept that her brother was mentally ill, so didn’t accept that this drove his actions and were not necessarily bad in intention.

… Which leads to a story about Ricky, a convicted child molester and murderer. His mother was severely injured in a car accident, and while she was pregnant continued to be given all sorts of drugs, one of which has been linked to paedophilia. Ricky developed psychosis from an early age, and started molesting other children even though he had no idea what he was doing. At some point he had a counselling session, which told him he had a mental disorder and shouldn’t be released or he would reoffend. He was bright, so himself wrote to the state board saying he shouldn’t be released but kept in a mental hospital… but bureaucracy intervened… and then he killed a child.

The DA tried to seek the death penalty. Eventually there were conversations between Ricky and the mother of the boy he killed, who heard his story and said she’d fight for him. But the DA continued to seek the death penalty, and the mother was now considered to be unfit to parent her other children.

Ricky himself wanted to be a case study, to improve understanding of his condition. At the trial, the mother wanted to testify that Ricky was mentally ill and should be kept in a mental hospital and never released. Her testimony supporting him was very moving, and Ricky was spared the death penalty.

Clive concludes with two points. First, the mother was a victim, and the government tried to teach her to hate, but she tried to understand. Second, a person with mental health issues needs to be understood and not hated, which might get us to a place where we can prevent harm.

Kester Brewin talk

Kester Brewin portraitHis son kept getting invited to pirate parties, but what to wear? Stereotypical eye patch, or should it be an AK47 and inflatable boat, or a basket of dodgy DVDs?

Pirates are everywhere, on merchandise from baby bottles to ties. But why are they so popular? Because his son never got invited to any ‘aggravated robbery’ parties.

In the golden age of piracy, England, France and the other colonial powers were trying to enclose lands and sea. This involved ships, and the engines of the ships were the sailors. But the sailors were brutally treated. To be a sailor in the Navy was to be close to death, and a sailor’s death was marked in the ship’s log as a skull and crossbones. Sailors turned to piracy because they were fed up with brutal treatment. And the life of pirates was much better, equal and empowered.

Pirates were thieves, but then so was everyone else. So pirates were not hated because they stole, but for refusing to pass on the stolen goods to the King and for refusing to be treated as scum. Moving to piracy is towards emancipation and freedom.

Whenever the resources of the many are enclosed for the benefits of the few, pirates rise up. The BBC had a monopoly on radio, but broadcast only 1 hour of pop a week… leading to  Radio Caroline, which gave music back to the people.

By ignoring British copyright law, Benjamin Franklin boasted that the common person had better access to books and was better educated than the rich of other countries. Under copyright law, the creator is provided with a period of private benefits. But this should be followed by a period of opening up, whereby the public can also get the benefits. Modern society is being more and more skewed to private gain.

We are becoming more and more privatised, but are not getting happier. In the tradition of beating the bounds, the people walked round the common land and beat down any fences that prevented access. This became explosively political during Enclosure Acts. Societies that share more nowadays are better places to live.

The question Kester wants to leave with us is: What can you do to turn the agenda away from purely private gain back towards public benefit? We need a new community of pirates committed to defending the commons.

One thing you can’t do is pirate a TED or TEDx talk, because they are ideas worth sharing, under a Creative Commons Licence. So put down your iPads and put on your eye patches!

More Information

The Commons on Wikipedia, and Creative Commons licences

Kester’s website, and on Twitter

Polly Higgins talk

Polly Higgins featureWhile representing in court a man who had been badly injured, Polly looked out of the window and reflected on how we are damaging the earth, and thought a thought that changed her life: “the earth is in need of a good lawyer”. She continued considering what needs to be put in place. Humans have human rights, what if the earth had rights too? The whole body of existing environmental law isn’t working – look at the Amazon. She discovered that many people were thinking like her, including millions of indigenous people.

Homicide against people, genocide against population, we need a new language to describe what is happening against the earth – ecocide. Can we make ecocide into a crime? Three months of research later, Polly realised the answer was yes, ecocide could be the fifth crime against peace alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, geocide, and crimes of aggression. All are crimes against life and the sanctity of life. What is happening in the Congo is a sad example of the spiral of resource depletion and war. The law of ecocide should act as a disruptor to this spiral.

A definition of ecocide: “the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

There are two types of ecocide: human-caused, and naturally-caused ecocide due to events such as tsunami. The law can be framed on nations to give assistance when something like this occurs – a legal duty of care. It won’t be possible for other nations to tell the Maldives there is nothing they can do about climate change and rising sea levels. Ultimately, we are in this together.

In international law, there is a principle of superior responsibility, which places responsibility on heads of state and business leaders whose decisions affect millions of other people.

The earth could be viewed as an inert thing, and we then put a price tag on it and abuse it – the ambit of property law. The earth could also be viewed as a living being, and we would think in terms of stewardship.

There is a parallel with the fight against slavery and the slave trade 200 years ago, viewed as a necessity preventing economies from collapsing. 200 companies then said they would work it out using market forces, but instead the UK government listened to the campaigners and the changes to law were made. With a period of transition, none of the companies went out of business. Today there are 3,000 companies arguing that fossil fuels like the Athabasca tar sands are a necessity.

It is currently the law of corporations to put profits first, and maximise returns to share-holders. Ecocide is about prioritising people and planet above profit, and a recognition that we can open the door to a conflict-free world where life and innovation flourishes.

Martin Luther King once said that when our laws align themselves to equality and justice then we will have peace in our world. Ecocide as a law will allow us to align ourselves with natural justice.