Saturday, January 28, 2012

Law, Technology and Jail Cells


“The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.”

-          Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), US detective fiction writer

In October 2011 the English Court of Appeal dealt with appeals by two men involved in the London riots, which bring to mind issues raised by the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney, New South Wales. 

Two men who had been convicted of inciting violent disorder via Facebook during the England riots in August had each been sentenced to 4 years jail. 

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, had created a Facebook "Event" entitled "Smash d[o]wn in Northwich Lootin", but later claimed it was a "misplaced" and "misguided" joke. 

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, had created a Facebook Page calling on people to "riot" on 10 August. His message went out to 400 contacts on the site, but he took down the page the following morning, claiming the post had been a joke. 

No rioting took place as a result of either Blackshaw's or Sutcliffe-Keenan's posts on Facebook.

The appellants argued that incitement via Facebook was a less serious offence because it did not lead to criminal activity in the real world. 

In dismissing that argument and the appeal, Chief Justice Lord Judge (yes, that’s his name and title, he is pictured above) commented on the role played by “modern technology” (principally Facebook, Blackberry’s BBM protocol, Twitter and SMS messaging) in the riot: 

We are unimpressed with the suggestion that in each case the appellant did no more than make the appropriate entry in his Facebook.  

Neither went from door to door looking for friends or likeminded people to join up with him in the riot. All that is true.  

But modern technology has done away with the need for such direct personal communication. It can all be done through Facebook or other social media. In other words, the abuse of modern technology for criminal purposes extends to and includes incitement of very many people by a single step.

Indeed it is a sinister feature of these cases that modern technology almost certainly assisted rioters in other places to organise the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas.

 R v Blackwell [2011] EWCA Crim 2312

At a time when technology and science is advancing faster than educational and legal systems, that makes good sense to me.

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