Today parliament has its first chance to scrutinise the proposed “criminal memoirs” law. Part 7 of the coroners and justice bill empowers the courts to seize assets of offenders who have received payments for writing or speaking about their crimes. The law would apply to all means of expression, including visual art, poetry and fiction created by former prisoners about their crimes. It would also apply to offences committed overseas. Additionally, the considerations that allow for a seizure application to be made are far too broad. One criterion is the extent to which the public is “offended” by the payments. Such subjective criteria make for bad law that is open to abuse. Genuine attempts at rehabilitation become vulnerable to populist campaigns.
The government assures us that the new exploitation proceeds orders will be used sparingly, but the broad criteria outlined in the bill lead us to fear otherwise. We are conscious of how terrorism laws have been misused and we are deeply concerned that the new seizure orders will enable similar overreach. The government did not consult widely enough on this issue. The proposals as they stand place countless rehabilitation charities in an uncertain position. We urge ministers and parliamentarians to revisit part 7 of the bill in dialogue with those groups that share the government’s overriding commitment to prisoner rehabilitation and integration.
President, English Pen
Director, Howard League for Penal Reform
Director, Prisoners Education Trust
Inside Time Magazine
To view the original letter, published in The Guardian on 21 July 2009, please click here.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/aboutenglishpen/campaigns/criminalmemoirs/criminalmemoirslawopentoabuse/