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Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

The English policeman (or woman) on the beat who can be asked the way or the time and who will always give a civil answer really does exist.

To a world that is more used to gun-toting law enforcement officers who might know the way to the nearest park but are certainly not about to tell you, the English police person is a curiosity.

Serried ranks of them attend every open air occasion and provide a comforting sense of continuity. They are always on hand everywhere except, as the English observe, when you really need one.

Unlike their European and transatlantic counterparts, they will never fine you on the spot and will seldom use unnecessary violence. They will just caution or arrest you and turn up in court to tell the judge and full supporting cast exactly why you should be fined, imprisoned or deported.

The English expect their police to be beyond reproach and are shocked to the core when charges of brutality or corruption come to light, despite the fact that such behaviour is the stuff of many police dramas on television. As far as the English are concerned, life should never imitate art. They seem to have no difficulty accepting the one while rejecting the other and go on to be shocked all over again when yet another ugly truth is revealed.


English prisons are, by common consent, overcrowded and ill-equipped. Prisoners quickly learn what crime is really all about and reformed characters are pretty thin on the ground.

The English are becoming increasingly aware of the shortcomings of their prison system and are looking closely at other countries' practices and performances.

Meanwhile one ex-public schoolboy, imprisoned for fraud, is on record as having observed that his school education turned out to have been a perfect preparation for the rigours of prison life, except that in prison he was marginally more comfortable.


English law, like many aspects of English life, is based on precedence.

Loosely constructed on the principles of right and wrong the system is impenetrable to the average citizen and quite alien to most foreigners.

It is acted out in real-life drama in period costume as the judiciary, the guilty and the innocent juggle with truth and falsehood in a courageous attempt to find either. And then, if a prisoner's guilt is established, to make the punishment fit the crime. It is the proud boast of the English legal system that this sometimes happens.

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