Following the riots in August the British judicial system swung into action. Prime Minister Cameron pledged that all would face the courts and those found guilty would face stiff prison sentences. Whether rioters or so-called ‘organisers’ or people sentenced for receiving stolen goods or those found guilty of inciting rioting on Facebook, they could all expect to feel the full force of the law.
In the days after the riots, the police, often in dawn raids, arrested over 2700 people, the majority of whom were refused bail. Impromptu courts were set up, with some sitting all through the night.
A ‘no holds barred’ directive gave courts licence to imprison regardless of any previous government guidelines.
A month after the riots the Guardian (5/9/11) revealed that “More than 90% of the cases being sentenced at crown court are resulting in jail terms, compared with an average rate for custodial sentences of 46%. Data previously released by the Ministry of Justice revealed that 44.6% of rioters sentenced at magistrate courts were sent to prison, almost four times the typical custody rate of 12.3% …Magistrates courts have been delivering sentences about 25% longer than average.”
The reason that these harsh sentences have been meted out is not primarily because the bourgeoisie believes that it will discourage future rioting, arson and looting, nor because the ruling class is having a fit of vindictiveness. The biggest threat to the rule of the capitalist class comes from the working class. In the future the bourgeoisie wants to know that it has at its disposal every possible repressive measure as part of its armoury against workers’ struggles. The material situation of the working class has been so degraded that the bourgeoisie knows that future social disorder will not be limited to rioting but will involve conflict with the only class that can threaten its position.