Cruel and unusual punishments


There seems to be no limit to the cruel and unusual punishments that Britain's government can dream up. Now the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson wants to disconnect internet users who download copyrighted material. The interesting thing about this current proposal is that those it is supposed to protect, such as musicians, are universally opposed to it, and have written to the Times to say so.

Of course, there's s a law of copyright, and as long as any law stays around, people should face penalties for breaking it. Traditionally we have used fines, or imprisonment in the more serious cases. And the principle has been that the punishment should be proportional to the transgression. The punishment should indeed fit the crime – but not in the style of the Mikado, which ministers don't seem to have realized was a joke.

In the last decade, however, all sorts of unrelated punishments have been dreamed up – withdrawing welfare benefits, scrapping people's cars, and 1001 (or more) different proscriptions under Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (which can land you in jail without trial if you break one of them).

The mechanics of cutting people off – when innocent people might use the same internet connection – seems about as impractical as Tony Blair's idea of marching young troublemakers off to cashpoints to extract on-the-spot fines. And about as just.

Here's another Mikado-style punishment plan for Lord Mandelson. People who cheat on their mortgages should have their houses demolished. I know one person who would be out on the street, for sure.