Judge stands by his call for caning

By Valerie Elliott
Home Affairs Correspondent

JUDGE Owen Stable, QC, was unrepentant yesterday about his call for the return of flogging to deal with young offenders.

Judge Stable, who sits at Snaresbrook Crown Court and is due to retire next year, reiterated his views: “I think the cane should be brought back … both in schools and in the judicial system.”

But he added: “I don’t think there’s the slightest prospect of it being returned. It would be blocked by Europe.”

Press cuttingAlthough the judge, who will be 72 next month, was privately being criticised by colleagues for using the bench to express his views, his sentiments seem to reflect those of many involved in the criminal justice system.

Judge Stable told three youths last week that if they could be sentenced to be lashed, “it would not only deter you but would deter a lot of other young men.”

The use of the birch was outlawed by the European Court of Human Rights in 1979, when it was described as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

It had already been abolished as a court sentence by the Criminal Justice Act 1948 but remained as a penalty for mutiny in prisons (although women could no longer be lashed, and men could get no more than 18 strokes of the cat or youths more than 12 strokes of the birch). The Isle of Man continued to make its own arrangements until flogging was banned last year.

Sir Frederick Lawton, a retired Court of Appeal judge, said last night he thought there was a case for caning juveniles as a court punishment but he opposed the return of the birch.

“My father was a prison governor and, from time to time, he had to supervise corporal punishment. It had to be administered in a prison and the governor had to ensure it was administered properly,” he said.

“He always found it very difficult to find anyone to do it. Anyone who volunteered was not allowed to do it as it was thought they had a sadistic tendency.

“But most prisons in those days had on the staff men who were former Royal Navy petty officers who had performed the functions of Master at Arms. My father used to detail those men to do it and no one ever objected.

“But who would inflict it today? Most of us would be reluctant to do it. In fact, I don’t think I would do it.”

While ministers are exploring new ideas to deter youngsters from crime, a return to flogging is not on the official agenda.

However, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is to decide next year whether to introduce American-style “boot camps” for young offenders.

The aim is to provide unruly youngsters with a tough, disciplined regime on military lines, with hard physical exercise and labour programmes.