Thursday, 30 January 2014

Corporate justice?

This blog has not shied away from taking a sideways approach to economics at times, and neither has it hesistated from looking at how economic power influences other spheres of life. One of those areas has been criminal justice - from comparative approaches to fraud to the relative crimes of Barclays and naked ramblers.

Today, the Guardian reported 'Metropolitan police accused of acting on behalf of big business' - helping make arrests for Virgin to bring a private prosecution for fraud, for which Virgin paid the Met. Many people, including Green London Assembly member Jenny Jones have highlighted the apparent ability of corporations to buy justice:

Labour MP Tom Watson said: "This sounds like emerging two-tier policing where corporate interests can buy the time of the police, leaving those who can't offer remuneration losing out. This is creeping privatisation with big business hiring police powers."

Of course the law is far from equal, especially since the massive cuts to legal aid which will undermine the ability of the less well-off to seek justice.

But another aspect of this story caught my eye, and that was the sentencing of those who supplied imported set-top boxes to allow people to watch cable TV without subscription.

"Munaf Zinga received eight years' imprisonment, and two other men were also convicted. They had sold 400,000 boxes over more than three and a half years."

Eight years imprisonment: there is no suggestion violence was involved, no one was killed, and there is no suggestion that any of those prosecuted posed a threat to the public. They supplied set-up boxes to people who wanted them, made some money, but Virgin estimated the equivalent income would have been £144 million a year. For reference Virgin Media still managed to scrape a profit last year of £1,030 million.

So why then was a man sentenced to eight years in prison. For reference eight years imprisonment is the average sentence for rape. Is selling illegally imported set-top boxes (even in large quantity) as bad as raping someone? And is it worth 8 years in prison?

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