Posts Tagged ‘cherie booth’

Jack of Kent has scored a gig writing a regular column entitled Bad Law, which promises to be rather interesting. His first article addresses that thing I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here already, about Cherie Booth and the “religious man”.

It’s worth a read, and it goes without saying that Jack (actually Allen Green) knows what he’s talking about on every level at which I remain an ignorant amateur. Though he does confirm one thing I suspected: that the sentence handed down by Judge Cherie was actually quite reasonable for the offence in question, and not obviously overly lenient.

He points out, though, that the guy’s religion wasn’t something brought up by the defence as a mitigating factor. It doesn’t seem like it had been mentioned at all, before Cherie decided to make reference to it out of the blue, which makes the question even more mysterious of why she felt it necessary or appropriate to raise the subject. (This assumes, of course, that the remarks attributed to her are accurate, but none of it seems to have been denied so far.)

There’s another interesting take at Heresy Corner, and an anonymous commenter there actually brings up an interesting point I hadn’t thought of:

[I]t’s possible that she was… using her knowledge of the defendant’s religious background to try and shame him into behaving better in the future.

To an extent, this seems to work, and makes her approach look thoroughly justified. He was a first-time offender; he may have been genuinely contrite for something out of character that he’d done on the spur of the moment; maybe this contrition could be emphasised by pointing out that his God probably wouldn’t be pleased with him.

But then, looking at both of Cherie’s quotes again, she does apparently claim to be basing the lenient nature of the sentence, in part, on the fact that he’s religious. That’s still not something I can comfortably reconcile with the idea that she has the capacity to remain impartial and unbiased on the grounds of religious conviction, even if it didn’t seem to lead to an improper decision on this occasion.

As another commenter there suggests, some clarification from Cherie Booth QC, or another appropriate spokesperson, would be appreciated – but I also think the National Secular Society may have jumped the gun somewhat in lodging their formal complaint as early as they did.

Hmm. I’ll get some new material soon. I have a backlog of personal anecdotes I keep meaning to write up here. Maybe when it’s not time for tea and bed.

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I’m hoping to have a new Skeptictionary post up either tomorrow or over the weekend. This will depend on how lazy I am rendered tomorrow evening by the presence of pizza.

Anyway, a few brief things to comment on today:

– I was all set to link to this first article with a catchy tagline like “Catholic church wants you to suffer, and can fuck off”. But having read the article more carefully, I think something like “Provocative headline overstates a most likely well-intentioned church statement” might be more appropriate. I don’t think they’ve said anything too grossly insensitive this time. So, it’s pretty much a non-story that there’s no real need to link to… and yet for some reason I’m still typing.

– Guilty verdict for the parents who let their son die, not getting him any medical help because they thought that praying would make a damn bit of difference. I find some sympathy for them making it through the anger. I mean fuck, their kid’s dead, that sucks however it happens. They’re not – well, okay, it sounds like they might be pretty horrible people, but they didn’t want this. It was the meme that fucked them.

– On a much cheerier note, Phil Plait blogs about a new book on evolution by Daniel Loxton, aimed at younger readers. It’s a neat-looking science book, with some damn cool-looking pictures, and Phil sums up nicely what’s so completely awesome about this kind of thing.

Simply put, I would’ve loved this book when I was a kid. It would have made me want to be a scientist.

Fucking yes. I used to read so much cool science stuff like this when I was a kid. Oddly, I don’t remember it ever specifically making me want to be a scientist, but it definitely made me love finding these things out, learning stuff about dinosaurs and planets, and telling people about these really cool things I knew. And that’s almost as good as being a scientist right there.

– And interestingly, a story I first blogged about nearly a fortnight ago suddenly got noticed by the rest of the blogosphere today, and really took off on Twitter earlier. Clearly I’m ahead of my time but fail at trendsetting. To recap briefly, Cherie Booth gave a suspended sentence to a man convicted of actual bodily harm, and told him that this leniency was based “on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before”.

Anyway, the majority response was much the same as mine, but of particular interest was the perspective provided by Jack of Kent. He’s a guy whose opinion is always worth listening to anyway, not least because often (as in this case) his legal background gives him a level of insight unavailable to the rest of us lay idiots.

The whole discussion thread on the New Humanist‘s post on the subject is interesting, but I’ll quote some of Jack’s comment here:

There is no actual evidence in this case that an atheist would have received less favourable treatment in seeking to similarly mitigate their sentence.

Indeed, one would find every day judges giving mitigation for a variety of reasons based on the pleas in mitigation made in particular cases.

See, as one of the aforementioned lay idiots, I have no idea what to expect from judges offering this kind of mitigation. I think most people’s objections, like mine, were with the notion of equating religiosity with morality – but although equating these two would indeed be objectionable, Jack doesn’t believe that there’s good cause to believe that that’s happening here. He points out that in such cases the judge is only deciding whether “good character” has been established.

And on reflection, I can see how someone’s religious behaviour could be relevant for such mitigation. For instance, “I see that you regularly volunteer at a Christian charity organisation, therefore you’re probably not as much of a danger to society as all that” might not be wholly objectionable reasoning.

It raises the question, of course, of whether an equivalent non-religious argument could be equally mitigating. I would hope that secular factors can be given equal weight in establishing good character. Although many people were treating the story as evidence of “discrimination” against the non-religious, Jack of Kent is far from convinced that we’ve seen any evidence of this happening.

I’m still really not sure. It still kinda seems that telling someone “You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour” carries a very strong implication that, if they weren’t religious, they couldn’t be trusted to possess such a moral compass. However, it is apparently common for a legal defence to make reference to someone’s “group affiliations” when asking for a lenient sentence, and it makes sense that these affiliations would sometimes be religious in nature and sometimes not. Furthermore, the only qualified lawyer I see around here is saying that it’s a non-story.


… I don’t really have a closing point to wrap this up with. It just felt like I should say “So” with dramatic emphasis, as if I had some idea what I’m doing.

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