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Instant justice

Crime isn’t slow; why should crimefighting be?

The spokesman for the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers is recommending that police be given new “summary powers”, including banning individuals from certain areas and imposing instant fines, to tackle “antisocial behaviour”. Most news sources are reporting the idea as one of “instant justice”, as though that were somehow a bad thing.

Of course, soppy due-process fetishists, in league as they are with the terrorists, might complain that “instant justice” is actually an oxymoron. What is instant is simply not justice, the argument would go, in the same way that, for example, what is instant is simply not coffee. The analogy is revealing, since people who care about the taste of their coffee are generally fey liberals. In the modern world we have a human right to instantaneity in all things. We can only hope that Parliament will not produce an equivalent of the smug killjoy from the Grolsch beer adverts: “Shtop! This justice is not ready!”

Such whinging is anyway easily refuted by the inspirational example in literature of the policeman as dispenser of “instant justice”. He is firm and incorruptible, and his puissant firearm is even called a Lawgiver. It is, of course, Judge Dredd, hero of the postapocalyptic megalopolis in the long-running comic serial published in 2000AD. (Dredd was impersonated, with artistically unimpugnable lack of affect, by Sylvester Stallone in the 1995 film.) If Tony Blair secretly fantasizes about wearing Dredd’s shoulder-pads, chains and helmet, and shouting “I am the law!” to all the antisocial perps who threaten our very way of life, I salute him.

  1. 1  WIIIAI  August 17, 2006, 12:16 pm 

    Soppy liberals were also opposed to George Bush’s “Operation Infinite Justice.” They don’t like infinite justice, they don’t like instant justice, it’s like a whole Goldilocks thing with them.

  2. 2  abb1  August 17, 2006, 1:49 pm 

    I noticed with Mr. Bush, he always insists that we should deliver justice to one group of bad people or another. It’s a pity – why give all that justice away and always to some bastards, “terrorists” or “our enemies” (although, to be fair, quite often mere “terror suspects” get it); I’m sure we could use some of it ourselves.

  3. 3  Steven Poole  August 17, 2006, 2:38 pm 

    I forgot to mention the possibility that an instant justice is a sachet of powder that, once you add hot water, reconstitutes itself into Antonin Scalia. That would be cool.

  4. 4  sw  August 17, 2006, 7:11 pm 

    I happened to be thumbing through an old copy of 2000AD the other day. I was reminded of my adolescent awe of Judge Dredd and the pounding he gave those perps with their anti-social behaviours and poor dentition. It made me think, pace Plath, “Every teenage boy adores a fascist”.

    “Instant justice”, in this case, seems to be unspeak not on the part of the government, but by those who oppose giving these powers to the police. The term, after all, seems to come from critics and the critical media (at least so far as I can see from your links), whereas governmental unspeak in this matter is appearing in terms like “re-balance”.

    A cursory look at the recommendations in their current form shows that although the administration of a penalty will be immediate, the process of justice is not intended as “instant”, insofar as it is supposed to evolve out of the bobby’s relationship with and understanding of the community in which he or she is working. The copper recognises the “yobs”, the knife-wielders, the gang members, and based on this on-the-ground knowledge – & when they are seen violating the law – gives them the clip around the ear with a fine and/or prohibitions against associating with one another or being somewhere. The sneering implication that the police cannot be trusted to administer justice – an implication quite borne out by any number of atrocious abuses by the police – makes consideration of on-the-spot fines and penalties seem ludicrous. In other words, like your post, “instant justice” quivers with so much irony that the proposals it is made to represent collapse. That may not be a bad thing; some of the proposals sound ridiculous – but it is a linguistic trick rather than a clear and sustained repudiation of the government’s proposals . . . much like comparisons to instant coffee and evocations of Judge Dredd. Dare I suggest that you were then compelled to mention Sylvester Stallone’s desecration of Judge Dredd, because simply evoking Judge Dredd would have had the teenage boy in all of us going, “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it . . .?”

    Now, my own sympathies lie elsewhere: as someone who owns a French Press (which I used to call my “Freedom Press”), I share your contempt for instant coffee. But I would not go so far as to say that instant coffee is not coffee: it’s just not very good coffee. That having been said, I can think of a couple of occasions in my life when I was given a mug of instant coffee – usually in environments where I had been starved of my usual doses of proper coffee – and found the drink to be absolutely delicious, revitalising, heavenly.

  5. 5  WIIIAI  August 17, 2006, 8:06 pm 

    Instant justice could also be a practice that turns Antonin “Fat Tony” Scalia into a sachet of powder.

    If it could do the same to Sylvester Stallone, that would also work.

  6. 6  Steven Poole  August 18, 2006, 12:36 am 

    SW, you say “Stallone’s desecration of Judge Dredd”; I say “artistically unimpugnable lack of affect”. I think the film was torpedoed rather by the polystyrene-and-cardboard Lawmasters than by Stallone’s heroically restrained performance. And sure, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing anyway. I am working, by the way, on a 500-page reading of structural analogies between the War on Terror and Nemesis the Warlock.

  7. 7  sw  August 18, 2006, 12:50 am 

    Ah, well, a reader of a post that includes “soppy due-process fetishists, in league as they are with the terrorists” would be an idiot to think that a reference to Stallone as engaging in anything “artistically unimpugnable” is, ahem, ironic.

    You are working on a “500-page reading of structural analogies between the War on Terror and Nemesis the Warlock”? Does that mean you are reading it or writing it?

  8. 8  Steven Poole  August 18, 2006, 12:53 am 

    I mean I am sitting on it while I work on something much more important.

  9. 9  sw  August 18, 2006, 12:58 am 

    I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say that we are trembling with excitement to learn that you are working on something more important than a 500-page reading of structural analogies between the War on Terror and Nemesis the Warlock. Will you wet our palettes?

  10. 10  Steven Poole  August 18, 2006, 1:01 am 

    Well, I would, but then your paint would get all runny and mixed up.

  11. 11  belle le triste  August 18, 2006, 10:19 am 

    not if it’s all about oil

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