Time served

Time served

The oath you take in a dock or witness box in a British (or almost any other) Court commits you to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. At the end of the proceedings you will be found guilty or innocent. If guilty of a serious crime you will be sentenced to a spell in prison – let’s say, ten years. You will be released after five years. My older great-grandchildren understand this.

Many years ago the Chief Constable of one of the British Homer Counties was being interviewed on television about the 70mph speed limit on the main arterial roads into and out of London. He said “Well, we will never stop anyone doing under 80mph”. My older children were in their teens, watching this. They had just passed their driving tests.

There are good reasons for both of these indiscretions, Crowded prisons present a problem. So do crowded roads. I do not pretend to judge the rights or wrongs of either case. But I am damned certain it is wrong to say one thing and do another. In the case of the speed limit my teenagers immediately assumed that ten miles an hour above the posted speed limit was fair game and they would not be prosecuted for it. Imagine the mayhem this could cause in a 30mph restricted area. At 30, you hurt someone badly; at 40, you kill them.

It may or may not be possible to rehabilitate someone serving a ten / five year prison sentence. That will depend on their crime, their culture and their attitude. What is certain is that one size does not fit all, Indeed, there must be some prisoners who Prison Governors know should not be released at all, for reasons of public safety.

What does it benefit us to lie about prison sentences and speed limits? I can see no benefit at all, but I can see a serious misinformation arising from doing so. Once recidivist criminals think that they only serve half their sentence two things happen. First, they get an impression of having to serve only a light sentence. It’s like the supermarket ‘two for one’ offer. It may be a delusion but it does convince some people. Second, the public who are supposed to be protected from criminal activities learn that that is only half true. Being naturally lazy they don’t do anything about it until an incident like London Bridge happens. Then they overreact.

Lies of this sort extend to keeping people waiting. Doctors are busy people and they should not be kept waiting, But, extreme incident apart, patients should not be kept waiting either. After all, they are the ones that are ill. Granted, the consequences are not major incidents but in aggregate they amount to considerable time waste. Indeed, all purveyors of goods and services are thoroughly off-hand about their customers’ time. Most customers are capable of using waiting time if they are told about it, They cannot do so on the basis of ‘any minute now’.

We do not need to be told the secrets of the country’s defence. We will be happy if ordinary official statements tell the truth.

After all, we are expected to.