Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hayes’

Crime and hard time

It is a commonplace observation among people who take an interest in such things that the penalties for different types of crime are often coherent in their immediate vicinity, but erratic in the broader picture. Penalties for cruelty to children, for example, will proportionately reflect the seriousness of the offence. Compare them with the penalties for cruelty to animals, though, and they rarely make sense. Different kinds of burglary are on one scale, driving offences on another. Comparisons do not impress. This is not surprising. Different types of crime evoke different feelings and it is hard to derive from them a sensible scale of punishments.

So naturally we find that international comparisons dig up even more anomalies. This has recently attracted the attention of some writers rarely drawn to the finer points of penal policy, because of the recent case of Mr Tom Hayes. Mr Hayes is depicted for law enforcement purposes as the sole perpetrator of the Libor scandal, in which inter-bank rates were manipulated by employees of London banks to the advantage of Mr Hayes and, one supposes, others. Mr Hayes was recently sentenced to 14 years in jail.

To many people this seems rather a lot. I suppose fiddling with the bank rate isn’t exactly a victimless crime – Mr Hayes’s ill-gotten gains must have been someone’s undeserved losses. On the other hand it is difficult to resist the thought that all the players in this particular casino had pots of money, and perhaps something less than pots of ethical inhibitions. Mr Hayes was no Robin Hood. But his situation reminds us of the fact that, as the old song puts it “you never saw an outlaw drive a family from their home.” Bankers whose minor peccadilloes wrecked the global financial system have so far escaped criminal penalties.

Anyway, whatever the absolute view of Mr Hayes’s desserts, his sentence provoked some interesting comparisons. Richard Harris pointed out in a local tree carcass that according to the Murder Sentencing Manual produced by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (hardly a liberal stronghold, I suppose) an appropriate sentence for rape would be five years, and for provoked manslaughter ten. The Economist provided a wider and more international set of comparisons, including the irrelevant but interesting snippet that in France you can still get two years for having sex with an animal. Mr Hayes still looked hard done by.

On the other hand he can consider himself lucky that he was not subjected to the “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory sentencing arrangements still applied in some American courts, where your third offence, however trivial, means a life sentence. Other judicial oddities from the Land of the Free include the 1,000-year sentence, the multiple life sentence, and a sneaky arrangement perpetrated on some sex offenders whereby at the end of your sentence you become a compulsory resident in a state “hospital” which looks quite like a prison from a distance.

Mr Hayes can perhaps also consider himself lucky that he did not come before a court in Hong Kong. Here we have cases of criminal small potatoes getting 40 years after being caught at the airport with a dope stash in their underwear. Unfortunately this approach affects sentencing in general, which appears to be intended generally to ensure as far as possible that the convicted criminal will remain behind bars until he qualifies for his fruit money. No doubt local judges do not wish to appear a bunch of softies when compared with neighbouring counterparts who still have hanging, flogging or shooting on the menu. Still. Could your lordships please emerge from the Middle Ages?



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