A blog article by Bonniejean Alford (Educator, Activist, World Citizen)
A few weeks ago Law and Order UK aired an episode on BBCAmerica that shocked me to no end (Goddard, 2010). The basic premise of the episode was the murder of a six year old boy by two other children, females ages ten and thirteen. In the end, the evidence showed that it was the ten year old that actually committed the murder, while the thirteen year old did nothing to try and stop it, even though she did attempt to save the boy when the ten year old left. Despite her inaction in the actual murder, she was indeed complicit in the murder’s cover up. Suffice to say, while the act itself was heinous and shocking, the way the British government handles juvenile defendants was an even greater surprise.
Simply put, the British government does not take into account the age of the offenders, even if they pay special attention to the age of the victim, or at least as represented in this television show (Goddard, 2010). When the truth came out, the thirteen year old came to an agreement with the prosecution where they testified against the ten year old. While the crown prosecutor did feel sympathy for the young defendant and the psychological plight her family had put her through, he was charged with seeking prosecution to the full extent of the law, no matter whether or not it worked toward the ultimate pursuit of justice.
Truth be told, in the American system of justice, this ten year old would have been immediately transferred to the juvenile justice system and likely received treatment rather than punishment, unless of course it was proven that trial as an adult was the best course of action. While the crown prosecutor did express his desire to have the case transferred to a juvenile status whereby the child offender would automatically receive treatment instead of jail, he was bound by rules that require a petition to classify a defendant as a child if certain conditions are met. Apparently in this case, they were not.
Ultimately, the case became ground in political and societal upheaval, with great contradiction as to what would be the right course of action. Even the murdered child’s mother requested clemency and treatment, even if it wasn’t warranted by the legal system. C. Wright Mills (1959) would clearly argue that those in this situation are very much trapped by the very legal system they are trying to protect. On one hand, the murdered child deserves justice. But on the other hand, the ten year old murderer that faced abuse and horrendous treatment by her own mother learned behavior that was not befitting of a child. And since that behavior involved intent, there was no choice but to be trapped in the realm of legal limits.
Further, the actions of the ten year old without question impacted the society as a whole, just as the environment she was raised in impacted her very outlook and behavior. This reciprocal reaction between the macro society and the micro individual is an inevitable outcome of heinous acts that take a prominent role in everyday life (Mills, 1959). Had the ten year old girl not been exposed to violence and prostitution by her mother, it is quite possible that the murder would never have occurred. Further, if the media and society had not taken such a concentrated interest in the case, then it may have been possible to find a way out of the trap and transfer the status of the defendant to that of a juvenile, allowing her to get the treatment she so desperately needed.
In the end, justice was far from served with this case as depicted on Law and order UK. But it reminds us of the need for vigilance in the pursuit of justice. If portrayed accurately in this fictionalized television show, the manner in which the British government treats child offenders is a gross miscarriage of justice, one that leaves much to be desired in regard to the fair treatment of individuals. While the American juvenile justice system does have its flaws, it goes to great lengths to recognize that there is indeed a difference between adult criminals and juvenile ones (Bartollas and Miller, 2011).
Juvenile violence is on the rise and shows such as Law and Order UK may be trying to show children what can happen if they choose to participate in such actions, but does little to compete with the onslaught of violent television and video games that seem to present violence as an acceptable behavior. Without delving further into this connected issue, recognizing Law and Order UK’s role in the ever present influence of the media is an important component to understanding how this show’s representation of justice, or lack there of, impacts society as a whole. Without question it does impact society’s expectations about how children should be treated within the justice system. How we go about putting those expectations into practice is another issue altogether.
Bartollas, Clemens and Staurt J. Miller. 2011. Juvenile Justice in America, 6th edition. Boston: Prentice Hall.
Goddard, Andy (director). 2010. “Broken.” Law and Order UK. Original British television Air date, 9 September 2010.
Mills, C. Wright. 1959 (2000). The Sociological Imagination: Fortieth Anniversary Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.