Times (London), April 7, 2006
A judge who halted the prosecution of a schoolboy for an allegedly racist playground taunt was today accused of being out of date by teaching unions.
The boy, who cannot be identified, was brought before District Judge Jonathon Finestein at Salford Youth Court for allegedly calling an 11-year-old a “Paki” and “bin Laden”.
Judge Finestein made it clear that in his view the case should not have reached the courts, concluding that the decision to prosecute appeared political correctness gone mad. He ordered the Crown Prosecution Service to think again, stating that in his day such matters were resolved with “a good clouting or the slipper”.
Judith Elderkin, national executive member of the National Union of Teachers, representing Greater Manchester, said that Mr Finestein’s attitude was “a bit out of date”.
She said: “Racist abuse, whether it be verbal, physical, psychological or on the internet, is not tolerated nowadays. Schools have to report it, they don’t have any choice. It is a legal requirement for schools to report these incidents and someone in the police force examines the returns for every school.
“What the judge is saying is that the two children should have just had their heads knocked together. He needs telling that it’s no longer within the control of the school to handle incidents of racial bullying.”
The boy, from Irlam, Manchester, appeared in court with his parents. He denied a racially aggravated public order offence and said that he and the other boy were now good friends.
The remarks are alleged to have been made in the school playground between July 1 last year and the end of January. The boy agrees that he did call the older boy a “Paki” but said he did not use any other racist terms. He also said that the older boy called him “white trash” in return.
The Race Relations Act 1976 states that schools and governing bodies have a duty to ensure that students do not face any form of racial discrimination, including attacks and harassment.
Judge Finestein, who has a reputation for plain speaking, said that when he was at school other pupils would call him fat but that did not amount to a criminal offence. He ordered the boy to remain on summons and adjourned the case until April 20 so that the CPS can decide whether or not it is in the public interest to go ahead.
“Have we really got to the stage where we are prosecuting ten-year-old boys because of political correctness?” he said. “Does this amount to a criminal offence? It is crazy. Nobody is more against racist abuse than me, but these are boys in a playground.”
“I am not condoning what he supposedly said but there must be other ways of dealing with this apart from criminal prosecution.
“This is how stupid the whole system is getting. If you get your car stolen it does not matter, but you get two kids falling out because of racist comments. This is nonsense.”
Mrs Elderkin criticised the judge for trivialising the case.
She said: “It may seem to the judge that his time has been wasted sitting in on a case like this, but he has got to understand that the CPS is abiding by guidelines. If a child is criminally responsible for his actions, or if the police consider the matter serious enough to take forward, the judge has to view that equally seriously.
“It is not a case of knocking the two boys’ heads together or giving them the slipper or the cane, or whatever might have happened in the past.”
A spokeswoman for the CPS in Manchester said that prosecutors were reviewing the evidence to decide whether to pursue the case.