What should Lady Justice see?

#StreetLaw 2 – Should It Be a Crime

…or why kids seem to have a basic (strict) morality.


For our second Street Law lesson, David and I decided to do one of the lessons we did at our training: Should It Be a Crime? There was no BBC filming this week – so we were relieved that at least. we wouldn’t have to keep repeating ourselves for the camera. Although it did mean we had a bit more time and could spend less time being mic’ed up and having things re-shot.

The Premise

When we went into the class, we asked the pupils to name any laws they knew. We were pleased that they came out with a list of things like murder, theft and assault (though a little bit of me did one of them to say “the requirement for all contracts in land to be in writing, preferably with a witness to ensure probity”). They were asked what the connection was and they were able to realise that all these laws were about crimes. We never got into what a crime was in a legal way (rules that state can enforce limiting your behaviour) since it would be a little distracting at that time to the task at hand.

The Execution

After last time, we decided to mix up the groups a bit by getting all the pupils to count to themselves up from 1 to 5, then starting again – with all the 1’s being a group; all the 2’s; all the 3’s etc. (this didn’t stop the almost inevitable 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…ehh, is it me…ehh 6). Each group was given a sheet of various scenarios and asked whether they felt what was going on should be a crime, whether or not it actually is or not. There were lots of scenarios, covering petty theft through to environmental damage. But, for most of them, the class were in pretty broad agreement – and if the Bellahouston S3 class were in charge of criminal legislation, life would be tough.
There were a few interesting points from it though. The first was the classes perception of stealing. They all agreed that if someone stole money from someone’s purse, or stole food in order to feed their family then that was definitely stealing and should obviously be criminal. Yet, each group also thought that keeping an extra £5 you were given in your change in a shop should not be criminal. Even when it was pointed out that people in both scenarios are leaving with more money than they’re really entitled to, the answer was that it was the fault of the shop owner hey gave too much change – they had to suffer their mistake.
They also had a particular point to make about one scenario worded this way:

Lilly approaches a man for purposes of prostitution.

The room was very evenly split about whether prostitution should be illegal or not. Most felt that if both people were old enough, and were able to say no, then everything was fine – if you can sell yourself doing any other job, you could sell your services doing this one. But 2 of the 5 groups felt that there was a morality line to be drawn, and that for Lilly’s protection she shouldn’t be allowed to sell her body. Also, Lilly was approaching someone to offer her services, so might have been introducing prostitution into his life (albeit before his refusal) and he didn’t want that.
On a sidenote – during our training in January it was pointed out that the question doesn’t actually tell us who is the prostitute and who is the ‘customer’, but every person in the room assumed it was Lilly. When we suggested to the class that it could be the man that was the prostitute, and Lilly was willingly going up to him because she wanted to pay him, more tended towards decriminalisation, since intrusion was less of a problem. I should note, however, that one boy found the suggestion that the man could be a prostitute very difficult to accept. Equally, many in the class who objected on ‘morality and protection’ grounds couldn’t accept the suggestion of one girl that Lilly might actually want to be a prostitute. A similar position, perhaps, to some of our law makers.

The Conclusion

So in an attempt to draw these things together, we asked the class “What makes something so bad that it should be a crime”? All in all, the class did pretty well. It was agreed that it wasn’t enough that people thought it was ‘bad’ but that it had to “cause harm” to somebody. It was also suggested that you had to be able to catch someone doing it – “it’s pointless to have a crime and you can’t stop people doing it or they’re just going to do it anyway”. Surprisingly, this attitude didn’t stop 4 of the groups opting to keep marijuana use illegal!
If we’d had more time, we’d have maybe discussed how things are at some points illegal and then made legal once attitudes change and what drives that. Does what society perceives as “causing harm” change, and if so how; or is it that we’re now able to catch people more easily? Do computers change this and our perceptions of crime? but alas, lunch was looming and we knew better than that.


Teaching Points

+ Mixing up the groups worked well and encouraged different people to speak.
+ Having the discussions and debate in the groups and across the room got people interested.
– Because of the strong opinions in some matters, the class got a little rowdy. We’ll need to be able to control the class in these situations.

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