Harper's Law is named after PC Andrew Harper, killed in pursuit of three thieves quad in 2019. It introduces mandatory life sentences for anyone whose crimes result in the death of an emergency service worker, and is expected to take effect in early 2022, after a successful campaign by the Widow by Harper, Lissie. The couple were newlyweds when the policeman was killed.
Some crimes and their subsequent prosecutions require systemic change; others simply feel unresolved by the legal outcome, and it is difficult at the moment to distinguish between the two. Harper's killers, then 18-year-old Henry Long, and Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 17, have all been cleared of the murder and convicted of manslaughter. Their sentences were not insignificant - Long's was16 years old; Cole and Bowers were both sentenced to 13 years - but their conduct was unrepentant and frightening. It appeared after the trial that the jurors had was given additional security amid fears of potential intimidation from supporters of the defendants. It was understandable to perceive, as Lissie Harper did, that rather than face justice, Long, Cole and Bowers had escaped its niceties and niceties, that their punishment was insignificant compared to the harm they had caused.
Basically it is about re-establishing this balance - the loss of such an honest, citizen, and selfless figure like Andrew Harper, distorted in clemency to three antisocial and callous criminals - that Lissie Harper pursued this change.of law e. The appeals judges had already dismissed the calls for increased sentences.
There is a fundamental principle that is indisputable: people who put themselves in danger to protect others deserve a greater ardent protective social shield than an ordinary citizen. It is a principle that finds an echo in the rhetoric around former soldiers, prison officers, nurses and, more recently in the wake of the Covid, bus and delivery drivers. In order for us all to live in peace, some must put themselves in danger, and gratitude for this requires reactive reciprocity. The law is a social tool to mitigate these dangers. This, says Harper's law, is more important than more abstract questions, such as whether it is possible or desirable for a justice system to classify citizens into a hierarchy of good and bad, and to build different laws. arounde each.
It is, however, highly debatable whether sentencing to mandatory life imprisonment anyone whose actions cause death in service actually protects these officials. By definition, this new law will primarily affect criminals whose actions accidentally resulted in death, since murder carries a life sentence anyway. Putting aside the ethical question of whether a wrongdoing is better or worse when you didn't think it was, there is the practical question of whether it is possible to be deterred beforehand. 'an act you didn ' t want. So, unless we believe very long sentences will warn people against crime (and we know, thanks to the three-stroke sentencing process in California, that an extremely harsh sentence only has to do with it. '' a marginal deterrent effect, offsetfrom a social point of view by a massive increase in the number of prisons population), the protective strength of Harper's Law is questionable.
It doesn 't matter. This is not to minimize the threats to emergency services. Some 10,000 attacks on police, nurses and other front-line staff take over each year. Ambulance drivers describe, in amazement, the violence they face from people as they take on the immediate task of saving lives. Prison officers tell alarming tales of a surge in violence, exacerbated by overcrowding and understaffing. The common factor in all of these stories of violence is that frontline workers face unprecedented rage and frustration, both in predictable (police, prisons) and unpredictable (A&E) contexts.
Officials often explain this in a way that seems nebulous and irreparable: Has the pandemic triggered a large-scale mental health crisis? Are public services so underfunded that situations arise? Once routine have become places of enormous pressure and potential violence? These factors, difficult but not impossible to quantify, remain problematic even if public discourse does not recognize them. In this context, many emergency service workers will feel Harper Law pretty much like nurses feel to be applauded every Thursday: it's good to know you care, general public, but this posting does very little to improve the lived reality of the challenges you say that you care about.
The underlying political agenda is grimly recognizable - a display of harshness to convey the impression of competence and emsocket ; an enemy built, to classify the nation into categories of those on the good side versus those on the evil side. Tactically, this is reminiscent of New Labor's "tough on crime" style: sacrificing insignificant people (who, in the case of anti-social behavior orders, couldn't even vote) was a big deal. easy meat for the belligerent media.
Harper's law has much less widespread application. Less than one policeman per year is killed while trying to prevent, stop or solve a criminal act. But it is still unsettling. It is a law which ties the hands of judges and ignores their expertise; but more than that, it is a law designed to address the real problem of a newly feverish public sphere. It erases the intricacies of politics, the complexities of evidence and pluralism, with a set of false dichotomies: are you in favor of our brave militias?be silent or do you prefer thugs and defense lawyers? Are you for good or for bad?
- Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist