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Mail strings sentences together with domestic violence

September 11, 2010

‘Be more lenient with women than men, judges told’ reads the headline in today’s dead tree Daily Mail.  This has been toned down to ‘Judges ordered to show more mercy on women criminals when deciding sentences’ on the website, although the main body of the story remains the same.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book (published in October 2009 by The Judicial Studies Board) quoted in this article has sections including Equality and Justice, Race and Justice, Belief systems, Children and the Courts, Disability, Women and Equality, and Sexual Orientation.  The aim of this Bench Book is “to inform, assist and guide, to generate thought and discussion and, ultimately, to enable all judges to deal confidently, sensitively and fairly with all those who appear before them,” according to the Judiciary of England and Wales website.  So it’s guidance, not rules.  Nobody has been ‘ordered’ or ‘told’ to do anything.  Strike one to the Daily Mail for misrepresentation in both headlines.

Delving in to the text of the article reveals that sections from Part 6 of the Bench Book, Women and Equality PDF have been selectively used out of context in order to increase the outrage factor amongst readers.

New guidelines declare that women suffer disadvantages and courts should ‘bear these matters in mind’.

The rules say women criminals often have poor mental health or are poorly educated, have not committed violence and have children to look after.

‘Women’s experiences as victims, witnesses and offenders are in many respects different to those of men,’ according to the Equal Treatment Bench Book.

‘These differences highlight the importance of the need for sentencers to bear these matters in mind when sentencing.’]

‘New guidelines’ (although not really that new, given when they were published) become ‘the rules’ within two sentences.  The mere idea of taking someones circumstances into account during sentencing seems to horrify The Mail, which goes on to say:

The controversial advice comes from the Judicial Studies Board, which is responsible for training the judiciary.

In the past, the board has caused upset by suggesting Rastafarians have religious beliefs which allow them to use cannabis.

It has also tried to ban words such as immigrant, asylum-seeker and even West Indian from the courts on the grounds they are offensive.]

Amazing!  The Mail manages to bring ‘political correctness gone mad’ overtones in, and shoehorns mention of Rastafarians, immigrants, asylum seekers and West Indians into an article about female criminals.  Strike two to The Mail for playing on people’s prejudices.

This is where the article manages to change from one issue to another without missing a beat.  Suddenly it becomes a vehicle for mentioning domestic violence against men:

[The latest guidelines have also caused anger, this time among campaigners for male victims of domestic violence.

The Bench Book tells judges that the problem ‘consists mainly of violence by men against women’. It adds ‘the reality is that some of the most physically violent incidents are committed by men on female partners’.

The document also suggests that aggression against men by women is rare, saying that ‘men and partners in same-sex relationships might also be victims of domestic violence’. 

However, campaigners for male victims of domestic violence claimed that men are being treated as second-class citizens by the new guidelines.]

This is a disingenuous move by The Mail, because not only does that part of the guidance come from a section about victims, not criminals, it also deliberately misses out large parts of the text.  What the guidance actually says is:

The courts and judiciary have an important role to play in conveying to the public that domestic violence will not be tolerated and sending out a message that abuse and violence in an intimate relationship is a serious matter and is unacceptable.

Domestic violence is rarely a one-off incident, and could also be seen as a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim. Domestic violence occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth, and geography. It consists mainly of violence by men against women. Children are also affected. Not only are many traumatised by what they witness, there is also a strong connection between domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse.

Whilst most victims of domestic violence are women, men and partners in same-sex relationships might also be victims of domestic violence and should be treated similarly.

Insofar as possible, gender neutral language should be used to describe domestic violence without losing sight of the fact that the reality is that some of the most physically violent incidents are committed by men on female partners or ex-partners.]

I have glanced at the statistics (PDF file) for domestic violence, and, it is a very complex issue requiring analysis by finer minds than mine, but, when read in context, it becomes clear that the Bench Book is promoting equality of treatment for all victims of domestic violence, both male and female, hetero and homosexual.  Strike three to The Mail for using quotes out of context.

Looking at the section on victims of domestic violence also shows that this quote, from Mark Brooks of the ManKind campaign group is woefully misinformed if it was garnered by a journalist using misquotes:

‘For a document that claims to be about gender equality, it clearly leaves the impression that male victims are seen as being second class when, of course, all should be seen the same.

‘It is unacceptable that men, often suffering in silence at home, are being shown to be second-class victims by those running the legal system.’

He added: ‘To say grudgingly that men might also be victims is sweeping their problems under the carpet, when the Government’s own figures show hundreds of thousands of men every year are suffering.’]

The next glaring anomaly in the Mail report is the part that says:

Updated guidance on how to sentence female criminals was distributed in April in a new section on ‘gender equality’

A look at the Judiciary of England website reveals that:

[An update to the Equal Treatment Bench Book, was published in April 2010.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book has been updated to include guidance on specific learning difficulties – where only some areas of functioning are affected. The guidance is intended to help judges recognise such difficulties, identify their implications in a court setting and understand what should be done to compensate for areas of disadvantage without prejudicing other parties.]

The guidance relating to women was published in October 2009.  Strike four to The Mail for mistaking ‘specific learning difficulties’ for women.

The Mail has utterly failed to offer a balanced view, or any coherent arguments, on the issue of sentencing women, starting with the headlines and swiftly followed by the text of the story.  It has managed to get a dig at Rastafarians, immigrants, asylum seekers and West Indians into a completely unrelated story.  It has garnered an outraged quote from someone campaigning on an important subject, that of domestic violence against men, by misquoting the Bench Book.  As a final irony, it manages to highlight the inequality between the sexes in the Supreme Court:

On women accused of crime, the guidance quoted Judge Baroness Hale, the only woman among the 11 at the Supreme Court, who describes herself as a ‘soft-line feminist’.

Strike five to the Daily Mail.  You are well and truly out.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2010 10:24 pm

    Standard Mail story – out of context, misinterpreted facts and a huge dollop of opinion made out to be "news".You hit the nail on the head when you said "…it is a very complex issue requiring analysis by finer minds than mine…". Unfortunately, the Mail didn't get an expert on legal issues or on domestic violence to interpret for them, it is likely that it was interpreted by a rushed and unprofessional hack and one of their rentaquote types on retainer.

  2. October 23, 2010 10:12 pm

    This is a slightly old post, but I'm glad you brought this up. The Mail have been publishing these heavily distorted stories based on the same bloody document for at least a year now, every so often picking out a certain section and saying blah blah's been 'banned', when quite clearly it hasn't. For instance this one a few weeks back: . I couldn't find any reference to issues with term 'gypsy' in the document at all, or the term 'British'. Unless someone could do a better job than me explaining this, although I think the Mail is just outright lying here. No surprise really.

  3. October 23, 2010 10:53 pm

    @Alex: I'm looking through the Bench Book now, and have failed to find anything along the lines of what The Mail claims in that article. I'm guessing they're talking about this part of the book: Mail really hates the thought of equal treatment, doesn't it. There are figures regarding stop and search and prison populations in that section of the Bench Book that seem to indicate inherent racism in the justice system, yet The Mail completely fails to mention those.

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